US reports first drug shortage tied to virus outbreak

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FILE - This Aug. 2, 2018, file photo shows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration building behind FDA logos at a bus stop on the agency's campus in Silver Spring, Md. Health officials reported the first U.S. drug shortage tied to the viral outbreak that is disrupting production in China, but they declined to identify the manufacturer or the product. The Food and Drug Administration said late Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, that the drug's maker contacted health officials recently about the shortage, which it blamed on a manufacturing issue with the medicine's key ingredient. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Health officials reported the first U.S. drug shortage tied to the viral outbreak that is disrupting production in China, but they declined to identify the manufacturer or the product.

The Food and Drug Administration said late Thursday that the drug's maker recently contacted officials about the shortage, which it blamed on a manufacturing issue with the medicine's key ingredient. Regulators stressed that alternative medicines are available to treat patients.

The FDA previously said it had reached out to 180 drug manufacturers and asked them to check their supply chain and report any potential disruptions. The agency also said it had identified 20 drugs produced or sourced exclusively from China, but it declined to name them.

The FDA has good reason to not release the names of drugs facing potential shortages, said Rosemary Gibson, who wrote the book "China Rx" on that nation's role in American health care.

"People might rush to buy it and that would create a worse situation," said Gibson, a senior adviser at bioethics research group The Hastings Center. “In the context of shortages globally, you have to be very, very careful.”

More than 83,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, nearly 79,000 of them in mainland China. Government officials there have severely restricted travel and imposed strict quarantine measures to try and stop the virus from spreading.

Restrictions on movements of people and goods have been imposed by at least 90 countries, and that's disrupting flow of drugs and raw materials, said Nicolette Louissaint, executive director of Healthcare Ready, a nonprofit group funded by drug distributors, government and foundations that tracks the impact of epidemics and natural disasters.

For decades, the pharmaceutical industry has shifted manufacturing to China, India and other countries to take advantage of cheaper labor and materials. Today, roughly 80 percent of the ingredients used in U.S. medicines are made abroad, according to federal figures. India and other Asian nations rely on Chinese drug ingredients to make finished generic pills.