AUSTIN (KXAN)– A nationwide diabetes drug shortage is now hitting Austin, according to experts.
“We’re seeing a lot of shortages in a lot of the injectable diabetes medications,” said Rannon Ching, Pharmacist in Charge at Tarrytown Pharmacy.
He and others said it does not have anything to do with diabetes at all, but for their side effects of weight loss.
He said Tarrytown started seeing the shortage this winter season as more doctors started to prescribe the diabetes drug off-label for weight loss.
“Because everyone’s trying to get a certain product that’s been sold out, so they try to use another product that’s in the same kind of category, or the same type of class of medications,” Ching explained. “All… three or four of those different medications can be used for the same thing, but mainly people are using for weight loss, which is why the demand is so much higher than the supply.”
That surge in demand is being driven by social media– TikTok, to be exact.
“This is just crazy town,” said Edward Anderson, a supply chain expert. “This is new. I don’t know what to tell you. This is just crazy new.”
He said a shortage of this magnitude caused, in large part, by social media, hasn’t been seen before.
“Because it can’t be ramped up or down very quickly, if you have an increase in demand that’s being driven by social media on this scale, there’s no way that the drug companies in this case, Novo Nordisk, can catch up,” said Anderson, Wright Centennial Professor for Management of Innovative Technology Director at the UT McCombs School of Business.
On top of that, he said, many generic drugs are not manufactured with much buffer room.
“Sometimes they’re only… produced by one plant in the world. And they are run on razor thin margins,” he said.
That’s a common thread we’ve seen in other recent shortages, he said, like amoxicillin and child-friendly painkillers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
“The common thread is, is that it’s very hard to ramp up capacity for drugs because it’s highly regulated, it’s highly capital intensive, it requires very expensive machines; you can’t just add people to make more of it. The machinery operates 24 hours per day. And so the ability to adjust capacity is very limited,” Anderson said.
Problems in China add to the supply chain uncertainty, he said.
“They’re produced to a great extent in China, and we just do not have visibility into those plants to see whether they’ve been cutbacks or not,” he explained. “That said, we do know production has had to be less because of staffing shortages, which are now becoming extremely, extremely problematic with the wave of Coronavirus infections that are going on in China as we speak.”
One Texas doctor who’s been in practice for more than two decades and sits on the Texas Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health agreed.
He said he’s never seen a shortage as bad as this one for diabetes drugs.
He said our obesity epidemic, vanity, people having difficulty losing weight through other means, and all the supply chain disruptions plus this TikTok influence “have really changed the game.”
He also pointed to Adderall, ADHD medication, as another good example where there are disruptions in raw materials and/or some of the plants that have gone offline, combined with social media commentary on Adderall’s benefits.
“We get regular updates from our hospitals on a week to week basis these days about all the drugs that are currently on shortage. That never used to happen many years ago,” he said.