Insulin vial and syringe
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How Severe Is the Insulin Shortage in the U.S.?

Ambrish Shah - Author
By

Jun. 14 2022, Updated 1:56 p.m. ET

There are still shortages in the U.S. amid worsening supply chain issues. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of drugs were listed as being in short supply by the FDA. Almost a year later, anxieties about an insulin shortage are arising.

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The battle over insulin has largely been about the price of the drug and people's access to it. Now, it seems that those who rely on insulin may have to be concerned about the supply. According to Fox News, 37.3 million people have diabetes, while 96 million have prediabetes. As it stands, 7.4 million people rely on several forms of insulin.

is there an insulin shortage
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Is there an insulin shortage?

Medications such as Adderall, oxycodone, and insulin have been in short supply across the U.S. The shortage was brought about by a number of factors. The development of pharmaceuticals and complex medical devices has been hampered by a lack of raw materials and components. Talks of insulin shortages were first brought up as the COVID-19 started to spread to several countries.

Manufacturing plants struggled to keep up as COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns kept workers at home. Also, labor shortages prevented medical items from being delivered to areas where they are needed most. In 2021, the FDA announced that there would be a shortage. Now, a year later, they seem to be right. The price of insulin has seen a 600 percent increase over the last 20 years. Most House Republicans voted against lowering the cost of insulin.

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Doctors and hospitals were already under pressure trying to deal with supply even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that there's a monopoly on insulin production, there aren't many alternatives. Similar to the baby formula shortage, only a handful of companies play a role in manufacturing the product, which makes the possibility of a shortage troublesome, to say the least.

is there an insulin shortage
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How severe is an insulin shortage?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It's vital for the body to use or store the blood sugar obtained from the food we consume. Diabetes happens when the pancreas doesn’t generate enough insulin or when cells don’t respond to the insulin in the body. The discovery of insulin in 1921 revolutionized the treatment of diabetes, but now, a century later, access to insulin and diabetes treatment is still inadequate in many countries.

Insulin is essential in lowering the risk of kidney failure, blindness, and lower limb amputation for more than 60 million patients with type 2 diabetes. However, one in every two people who require insulin for type 2 diabetes doesn’t receive it. In 2021 the drug shortage caused a perfect storm when overdoses were on the rise while the availability of life-saving medicine plummeted.

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Naloxone, a life-saving medicine, was also in short supply, according to Pfizer. The company encountered a manufacturing issue at the start of the year. One group affected by that shortage has been the Opioid Safety and Supply Network Buyer's Club, the largest direct provider of naloxone to affected communities. It required 1.3 million doses in 2020 alone.

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When will supply-chain issues end?

Several companies highlighted supply-chain bottlenecks as a drag on their earnings. Executives are divided on when the supply-chain crisis will end, but no one thinks it will end soon. Initially, the estimates varied between the beginning of 2022 and the end of 2023. With new shortages constantly popping up, it isn't clear when the supply-chain issues will truly end.

What should people do if they're unable to obtain their prescription drugs?

People can call other pharmacies to check their stock, or they can speak with a doctor to see if there are any substitute medications that are easier to find.

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