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Experts warn coronavirus could cause prescription drug shortages in U.S.

With supply chains heavily disrupted due to the coronavirus outbreak, Americans could soon face shortages of life-saving products.

TAMPA, Fla. — With the United States relying on China for so many different products, the range of commodities that could experience a supply shock in the U.S. due to the coronavirus outbreak is wide. But one specific type of product facing possible shortages could actually be critical in saving lives: pharmaceuticals.

Many of the prescription drugs Americans use come from China. Even if they aren't made there, the materials used to manufacture a wide array of pharmaceuticals come from China. And with supply chains heavily disrupted due to the coronavirus outbreak, Americans could soon face shortages in life-saving products.

“There are many industries, manufacturing industries, that are strong and are doing well in the United States. The pharmaceuticals are one that are pretty much offshore,” said Donna Davis, a professor of Supply Chain Management at USF’s MUMA College of Business. 

“They are not produced here in the United States. A large proportion of those are in China. And even if the drug is not produced in China, it might be that the raw materials that go into the drug are produced in China. So, it might be that there are components of it that may be being shipped to Central America, to Puerto Rico is a place that has some of our manufacturing facilities that are nearby, or to Europe. And now, their production is slowing down or shutting down.”

Davis says generic drugs in particular could soon be in short supply because they are most heavily reliant on the Chinese market.

“Things like even I.V. solution, that you don’t really think about as being a drug but is necessary for health if you’re trying to treat sick people,” she added. “Insulin, the things that are off-patent and are more like generic drugs of course are going to be manufactured in countries where we can have less cost in the manufacturing process and so, you’re going to see things like that, or drugs like that are low-cost but they are life support drugs that we need for hospitals and clinics. So, those would be the types of drugs that I think you would see.”

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