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State Prescription Availability Database Proposed

Phil Steck

Those tired of struggling to fill their prescriptions have an ally in Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Schenectady.

Steck recently introduced legislation (A.8039) that would require the state Health Department to create a prescription drug inventory database that contains a list of all drugs designated as being currently in shortage by the federal Food and Drug Administration’s drug shortages database and a list of pharmacies in the state where each such drug is currently in stock.

“The United States Food and Drug Administration keeps a list of those shortages, as does the New York State Department of Health. Though these shortages are well-tracked, there is no mechanism that indicates which pharmacy has supply and which does not,” Steck wrote in his legislative justification. “This has resulted in patients calling from pharmacy to pharmacy trying to find their medication, and even if they do find a pharmacy with it in stock, they must then get the prescription sent over to that pharmacy in time. This has resulted in patients being unable to obtain their medications in a timely manner, if at all. This legislation creates an online inventory where doctors and pharmacists alike can locate which pharmacy has a supply for a medication that is on the drug shortage list or fund a supply of a reasonable substitute.”

The database would be accessible only to licensed physicians and pharmacists. Licensed pharmacists would be authorized to update inventory levels of drugs currently in shortage, with each pharmacy required to update its inventory levels of all drugs currently in shortage, as listed in the database, at least weekly.

In recent months, unexpected demand spikes, manufacturing problems and tight ingredient supplies have contributed to drug shortages, according to the Associated Press, with 301 active national drug shortages through the first quarter of 2023, according to the University of Utah Drug Information Service. The number of shortages is 49% higher than the 202 recorded in the first three months of 2018, according to the AP.

Last year, a spike in respiratory illnesses forced drugstore chains to temporarily limit purchases of fever-reducing medicines for children. A shortage of the antibiotic amoxicillin also cropped up around then. Weight loss drugs remain difficult to get, according to an AP article this week. Novo Nordisk, which makes weight loss medication Wegovy, says demand has forced it to restrict the supply of those smaller, initial doses in the U.S. The company also is warning those taking another weight-loss drug, Saxenda, to expect difficulty filling prescriptions “for the remainder of 2023 and beyond.” Another drugmaker, Eli Lilly, has said it expects tight supplies until year’s end for its diabetes treatment Mounjaro, which also is prescribed for weight loss.

In July, the AP reported South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem planned to expand its stockpiles of certain medications that have been in short supply while calling on the FDA to make the U.S. less dependent on foreign suppliers like China and India.

“My hope is that those leaders in D.C. that have the ability to weigh in on this issue will,” Noem said. “We’ll continue to educate them on why it’s such a critical need for us to address it today.”

Noem wrote to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf last week, imploring him to work with Congress on long-term solutions to fix the supply chain and reduce America’s reliance on China and India.

“This is one of the issues that’s still getting traction in Washington on both sides of the aisle, which is rare these days,” said Stephen Schondelmeyer, a leader of the Resilient Drug Supply Project at the University of Minnesota, to the Associated Press.

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