President Barack Obama is directing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take steps to reduce drug shortages, a situation that some have referred to as an "escalating problem" that raises the "possibility of price gouging."
"The shortage of prescription drugs drives up costs, leaves consumers vulnerable to price gouging and threatens our health and safety," said a White House statement.
The FDA reported 178 drug shortages last year, and the agency says it continues to see an increase in shortages this year. Major causes of drug shortages are said to be quality or manufacturing problems, or delays in receiving components from suppliers.
Recently, some patient deaths have been blamed on shortages, which, of course, has a detrimental affect on cancer drugs, anesthetics, drugs used in emergency medicine, and electrolytes needed for intravenous feeding.
In response to this perceived predicament, White House official said Obama planned to sign an executive order Monday instructing the FDA to take action in three areas:
- Broadening its reporting of potential drug shortages
- Accelerating reviews of applications to change production of drugs facing potential shortages
- Giving the Justice Department more information about possible instances of collusion or price gouging.
“The president’s action is a recognition of the fact that this is a serious problem, and we can and should do more to help solve it,” said an administration official in a recent New York Times article. “We can’t wait anymore.”
The executive order would be the latest in the president's campaign to move on initiatives that do not require congressional approval. Last week, he issued an executive order to help homeowners refinance at lower mortgage rates and on Friday he directed government agencies to shorten the time it takes for federal research to turn into commercial products in the marketplace
The president has also reportedly thrown his support behind for House and Senate legislation that would "require drug makers to notify the FDA six months ahead of a potential shortage," according to the Associated Press.
Under current regulations, drug manufactures are only required to notify the FDA if medically necessary drugs are being discontinued. Notification of shortages is strictly voluntary.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and FDA Commissioner Peggy Hamburg were expected to join Obama at the White House as he signs the executive order.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.