February 1, 2024

Limited GovernmentPolicy

How The Government Creates Drug Shortages

By: Brittany Hunter

If you’re one of the millions of people who are treated for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), you’ve more than likely struggled to get your prescription filled over the last year and a half.

In 2022, the country began experiencing nation-wide shortages of Adderall, Vyvanse, and Concerta–three medications that all contain the stimulant amphetamine, a heavily regulated substance. Those who rely on these medications have been left searching miles and miles outside of their regions for a pharmacy that is able to fill their prescription only to be told that the pharmacists haven’t had any for months and have no clue when it will be back on their shelves. 

As the problem enters its second year, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. In fact, the shortage has arguably gotten worse. The most frustrating aspect of this whole debacle: the government has the power to solve the problem, if it would simply get out of the way.

What Caused The Shortage?

When it comes to understanding the national medication shortage, there are a couple factors involved here. One major contributing factor is the pandemic. When the government relaxed telehealth regulations during COVID, more people were able to conveniently see doctors from their homes, which allowed them access to a proper diagnosis and treatment they may not have had before. 

This was a big win for the medical free market as patients were able to have access to a wide variety of care no matter where they lived and no matter where their doctor lived. According to the Center for Disease Control, during the pandemic telehealth surge, prescriptions for these medications rose more than 10% from 2020 to 2021.

But the manufacturers weren’t quite prepared for the surge in prescriptions, mainly because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didn’t allow them to be. 

The nanny state loves to nanny, and the FDA is one of the worst culprits. To protect consumers from themselves, they set manufacturer quotas on how much medicine could be produced by controlling the supply of amphetamine.

In a truly free market, production quantities respond to market demand. If there are more prescriptions, the manufacturer makes more medication. It’s as simple as that. But when the government steps in to regulate how much can be produced, there is no way a company can respond to market needs. 

You’d think that in the case of something as important as medication the  FDA would relax these laws. But that has yet to happen. As a result, people are now waiting for their prescriptions and pharmacies have no idea when to expect more. 

A Government-Created Problem

By federal regulatory standards, amphetamine is a schedule II controlled substance which, according to the Department of Justice, “has a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.”

Can amphetamine cause dependency? Absolutely. But a person can become dependent on just about anything whether it be medications, sugary foods, or coffee–doesn’t mean we should regulate the supply of caffeine, although we shouldn’t give the government any ideas.

Not to mention, government drug classifications should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, the agency responsible for these classifications is the same one who has listed cannabis as a Schedule I drug, on par with potentially lethal substances like heroin.

Manufacturers of ADD and ADHD meds are only allowed a certain amount of amphetamine as per the government’s guidance. If for some reason they need more, they have to get approval from the FDA–an agency known for its lengthy bureaucratic processes. To make matters worse, these approvals are only done on a quarterly basis. 

The FDA claims that they try to prepare for shortages such as these, but that it’s hard to get it right. This is precisely why the government shouldn’t be meddling in the market process in the first place. 

Let The Market Meet Consumer Demand

Market producers understand the supply and demand connection in a way the government never will because they know better than anyone when more product is needed. Their success relies on responding to market signals. 

In a perfect world, an unmet consumer demand would be met almost instantaneously with an increase in production. Instead, the drug manufacturers have to relay this information to the FDA, who then makes them jump through hoops and wait on approvals, all while patients struggle without their medications.

The problem has gotten so bad that even members of Congress have called on the DEA and the FDA to let the manufacturers meet their consumer demands. The agencies responded by trying to blame the manufacturers saying that they have not asked the agencies for an increase in their supplies, which some manufacturing companies say is simply untrue. 

If the government wanted to, they could help solve this crisis. But whether it’s due to bureaucracy, incompetence, or simply a love of control, the agencies in question have refused to do so. Meanwhile, the shortage continues as pharmacists are constantly bombarded by phone calls from people eager to know when they can get access to the medications they need. 

The government needs to get out of the way and let the market do what it does best–meet consumer needs and give patients access to their medication