The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Drug Shortages:
Product of the Profit System

Dec 11, 2023

Half of all members of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists reported drug shortages, according to the New York Times. Many drugs from every therapeutic category have been in short supply at some point since the early 2000s, on average for around 1.5 years. These include potentially life-saving cancer drugs, antibiotics for treatable illnesses, and medications for ADHD that allow people to function day-to-day.

Most of the drugs in short supply are generics, which are less profitable for the drug manufacturers to make. As a result, the drug companies simply stop producing them or limit their amounts. Larger health care systems watch for supply shortages and engage in panic buying, leaving little or nothing for smaller health care systems.

The federal Food and Drug Administration is responsible for holding pharmaceutical companies to quality standards, but winds up relaxing the requirements when drugs are in short supply. Patients wind up receiving lower quality drugs. At other times, health care providers are forced to switch to a completely different, less effective alternative medication. Deaths from septic shock, for example, increased by 10% in 2011 when there was a shortage of the best drug for treating it, norepinephrine, according to the Times.

In this society in which the quality of health care one receives is based on how much one can afford to pay, it’s workers who more often than not wind up not receiving the drugs they need. Many have stories of going to one provider only to be told they have to go elsewhere. How many workers have time for this, and how many go without treatment because they have no health insurance?

The politicians in Congress have supposedly tried to address problems of drug shortages, yet the problems continue. Profit still remains at the heart of medical care in this country, so we shouldn’t hold our breaths waiting for the politicians of either party to find a way to force the pharmaceutical companies to produce drugs without guaranteeing them profits.