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Drug shortages make it difficult or impossible to meet the therapeutic needs of individual patients or populations. In the first part of this review we proposed an operational definition that incorporates the processes by which products are manufactured, the causes of shortages and stock-outs (local shortages), and the contributory factors. Here we discuss causes and possible solutions. Drug shortages have complex causes, and a single cause cannot always be identified. Reasons include lack or shortage of raw materials, manufacturing difficulties, regulatory and political actions, voluntary recalls, just-in-time inventory systems, halts in production for financial or other business reasons, low demand (e.g. orphan products, reduced usage), mergers, market shifts (e.g. diversion to home markets), and unexpected increases in demand (e.g. improved diagnosis, new trial information, epidemics and pandemics, inappropriate use, off-label use). Potential solutions are as diverse as the potential causes. Prevention is hard, because shortages are not easily predicted. Everyone in the supply chain is involved in anticipating and managing shortages, with responsibilities for preventing them or at least trying to mitigate their effects. This includes manufacturers and suppliers, particularly of generic formulations, pharmacists, prescribers, patients, and governments. Solutions can therefore be linked to the causes and classified according to where the responsibility for implementing them lies.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Clin Pharmacol

Publication Date



adverse reactions, medication errors, pharmaceutical preparations, prescription drugs, shortages