FDA Is Asking You Not to Stockpile Meds Amid Ongoing Shortages
Unprecedented demand has created a major problem in the U.S.
We became all-too-familiar with shortages during the height of the COVID pandemic, when retailers struggled to keep toilet paper and cleaning products in stock. But recently, the U.S. has been grappling with supply problems surrounding something just as important: medication. The country has been battling shortages for everything from Adderall to popular diabetes drugs. Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is appealing to consumers, urging them not to stockpile cold and flu meds amid another ongoing shortage. Read on to learn more about the FDA's latest warning.
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Cold and flu medications are facing significant shortages.
Respiratory threats are surging across the U.S., with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) saying that the levels of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza (flu) are "higher than usual for this time of the year, especially among children." Meanwhile, COVID remains an active threat. As a result, over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu medications are flying off shelves, and prescriptions are also taking longer to fill.
According to a Jefferies analysis of Nielsen data, sales of OTC cough and cold medications at U.S. retailers increased by 35 percent for the four-week period ending on Dec. 3 compared to the same timeframe last year, The Wall Street Journal reported. And sales of throat spray and lozenges rose by 56 percent.
The FDA is now asking consumers not to stockpile meds.
Shannon Dillon, MD, a pediatrician at Riley Children's Health in Indianapolis, told the Associated Press that the shortages impacting cold and flu medications right now—particularly for children—are similar to the toilet paper shortage at the beginning of the pandemic, in that supplies are still available but hard to find. "You just have to look in the right place at the right time," Dillon explained.
When you do find these OTC meds while you're out shopping, you might be tempted to grab as much as you can—but the FDA is now advising against this.
"We're urging people not to buy more than they need because there is enough to go around for the amount of illness," FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD, told CNBC on Dec. 21. "It's just that the minute it gets shipped out it gets bought. And if people buy more than they need and everybody does that, then people who need the products won't be able to get them."
Officials say that demand is the issue, not supply.
The FDA is currently working with cold and flu medication manufacturers to improve supply, according to Califf. But that's not the real problem causing shortages right now—it's the unprecedented demand.
"The overall supply is larger than it's ever been, but the demand is even higher," the FDA commissioner told CNBC. "We've not seen the need, the demand, nearly as high as it is now at any time in our recorded history."
Recent comments from manufacturers confirm this as well. Johnson & Johnson, one of the country's largest producers of children's pain medications, has refuted claims of widespread shortages and told CNBC that it has ramped up production to try covering the high demand.
"While products may be less readily available at some stores, we are not experiencing widespread shortages of Children's Tylenol or Children's Motrin," a Johnson & Johnson spokesperson told the news outlet. "We recognize this may be challenging for parents and caregivers, and are doing everything we can to make sure people have access to the products they need."
A spokesman for Procter & Gamble Co., the maker of NyQuil, DayQuil, and Vicks, also confirmed to the WSJ that the U.S. is seeing an "unprecedented level of respiratory need." The spokesman added, "We are doing everything we can to ensure our products are available to the people who need them."
Nevertheless, steps are being taken to increase the supply of much-needed medications. Under orders from President Joe Biden, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on Dec. 21 that they are releasing additional doses of Tamiflu from the nation's reserves to combat increased demand.
Some stores have started limiting sales of OTC meds.
Increased demand for these vital medications has prompted certain retailers to limit OTC drug purchases. CVS is limiting customers to just two children's pain relief products both in store and online, CNN reported on Dec. 21. This restriction is designed to "ensure equitable access" to all shoppers as demand surges, CVS told the news outlet.
Walgreens, on the other hand, does not have an in-store purchase limit, but is capping online purchases to just six OTC fever reducers for each transaction.
"Due to increased demand and various supplier challenges, over-the-counter pediatric fever reducing products are seeing constraint across the country," Walgreens said in a statement to CNN. These limits were also put into place "in an effort to help support availability and avoid excess purchases," the company said.
Policies vary at other retailers. Rite Aid does not have in-store purchasing restrictions, but consumers are only allowed to buy five 4-ounce grape-flavored Children's Tylenol online, per CNN. A Kroger spokesperson told Reuters that the grocery chain is limiting customers to two pediatric pain relievers and four cold and flu items. As for Walmart, a spokesperson told CNBC that it does not have any purchasing caps on pediatric pain and fever medications currently.