Empty shelves, shipment delays: Pharmacists feeling supply chain woes
Pharmacists across Long Island say they are dealing with longer waits for medical equipment and smaller inventory of common, over-the-counter drugs, mainly because of the supply chain crisis that has stalled the movement of goods across the globe.
The supply chain backup is making it tougher to get some prescription drugs and common items, from cough medicine and pain relievers to feminine products, as well as vital equipment such as ventilators and ingredients for COVID-19 tests. The wait time for some medical supplies is anywhere from four to nine months, trade industry experts said.
What to know
Pharmacists across Long Island say they are seeing shortages in items including over-the-counter cold medicine, pain relievers and feminine products due to the global supply chain crisis.
Experts say Long Islanders should resist stockpiling items, which only adds to the problem.
People who need certain medicines and supplies on a regular basis should look for alternative sources, including online retailers.
Tom D’Angelo, chairman of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, said he has experienced delays in accessing generic blood pressure pills as well as cold and flu medication.
"We are in the same position as everyone else," said D’Angelo, who runs home infusion pharmacy Americare in Garden City and Franklin Square Pharmacy in Franklin Square. "A lot of stuff is stuck on barges."
D'Angelo was referring to supplies sitting on ships in California ports. "People are struggling to get items, but so far this is not life-threatening," he added.
Supply factories across the globe shuttered or slowed production when the COVID-19 pandemic started in early 2020. At the same time, demand for goods from medical professionals and homebound consumers boomed. Shipping containers became scarce as it became more difficult to move items over air, water and land. And a worker shortage slowed the ability to move goods off ships stuck at ports and onto trucks.
"If anything, COVID has opened up a lot of eyes about problems in the supply chain," said Ron Tabbitas, director of Program Development at the Association for Supply Chain Management, New York City/Long Island Forum. "The majority of raw materials comes from China, and a lot of production of materials takes place in both India and China, and this needs to change."
Tabbitas said factories that shut down at the start of the pandemic were not able to start producing at the same volume when they reopened. Then there is the challenge of getting the materials to the United States through a backlogged shipping system.
"You can’t just turn the switch on in the supply chain to go back to where you were," Tabbitas said. "It takes time to ramp it back up, complicated by a surging demand."
The large pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. rely heavily on suppliers in countries such as China and India to help make many of their most popular prescription and over-the-counter medications. About 80% of active pharmaceutical ingredients manufacturers are located outside of the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Shortages increased in recent weeks
Some pharmacists said they started to notice shortages last spring and into the summer, with the situation worsening in recent weeks.
"We are starting to have some issues with cough medicine and allergy medication," said Mukesh Patel, a pharmacist who owns Brookhaven Pharmacy in Patchogue. "We haven’t seen the full impact yet."
The FDA’s database lists more than 100 drugs in short supply.
"There are fewer options when it comes to certain brands, as well as controlled scheduled drugs," said Nidhin Mohan, a pharmacist and owner of New Island Pharmacy in Deer Park, referring to pain medication such as Percocet and Vicodin. "Everything I used to order and get the next day is now delayed and delayed."
Mohan said even brand-name ibuprofen such as Advil and Motrin is in short supply.
He said many prescription drugs are still available because manufacturers make the same medicine in different formulations.
"The options are less by the day," Mohan said. "When that becomes a shortage, or complete depletion of available options — I don’t know. I’m starting to feel the pressure."
Denise Daniell-Aleszczyk, the manager/buyer at 110 Pharmacy and Surgical Home Health Care Center in Melville, said she is seeing shortages with all three wholesalers the store uses.
"It’s really hit or miss," she said, noting the shortages range from diabetic supplies to incontinence supplies and feminine care products.
If certain medications are not available, Daniell-Aleszczyk said, they reach out to a customer’s doctor to see if there is an alternative they can try.
"For the most part, we’ve been able to make it work," she said.
Supply chain issues also have made it more difficult to get certain kinds of medical equipment and replacement parts.
The FDA’s device shortage list includes ventilators, personal protection equipment such as gloves and surgical gowns, as well as reagents needed to perform laboratory tests.
A shortage of PPE at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 forced many of the large health systems to find alternative sources and boost their inventory.
Nonmedical personnel hoping to find masks at their local stores are often disappointed.
"We are having some issues with surgical supplies," Patel said. "Gloves and masks are still not 100% fully available."
Mohan said a simple order for a medicine cart, which is usually in stock and shipped from a warehouse in two days, is unavailable.
"It will probably take a month and a half — maybe," he said.
Looking for solutions
There has been some relief in the supply chain backup in recent weeks, as the Biden administration worked with two of the country's largest ports, in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, so they could start operating 24 hours, seven days a week. In addition, Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, UPS and FedEx have increased the amount of goods moved during off-peak hours.
Finding alternate sources for medicine and medical supplies is important for consumers as well as health care providers, said Thomas Cook, of the trade consulting firm Blue Tiger International in East Moriches and who is director of the Long Island Trade Association.
"There’s nothing that anybody can do to stop the problem from occurring," Cook said. "The only thing they can do is take steps to mitigate the impact. The delays are anywhere now from four to nine months."
He said people with medical conditions that require certain supplies or medicine should go beyond their regular pharmacy to others, including ones housed in supermarkets.
"People should also look into the e-commerce world," Cook said, referring to sites including Amazon and Mercari. "They stock huge inventories similar to what you would see in a neighborhood pharmacy."
Cook said people should resist the urge to stockpile items such as medicine, toilet paper, paper towels and food, because that is adding to the supply chain problem.
"Consumers are demanding more product than they need," he said.