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Coronavirus Outbreak Could Lead To Shortages Of Important, Life-Saving Medications

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - While many people might be concerned about actually getting sick from the coronavirus, there is another way it could affect your health without you ever being exposed to the virus.

Believe it or not, the coronavirus could lead to shortages of important, even life-saving medications.

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CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez discussed how coronavirus could potentially lead to disruptions to our drug supply in the United States.

So how could a virus that started in China actually lead to drug shortages in America?

It's because many of the raw materials that go into the drugs we take here in the states actually come from China. That includes both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. While the final manufacturing of the drugs may take place in the U.S. and Europe, it's the raw materials for the drugs, the supply chain that's being disrupted because the production facilities in China, as well as shipments from China, have been locked down, Gomez explained.

Watch: Will The Coronavirus Impact Your Ability To Get Your Medications? --

About 13% of the active ingredients come from China, but just as disrupting is that China is also the source of the so-called inactive ingredients in drugs.

Mike Alkire is the president of Premier, Inc., a leading health care improvement company that has been tracking drug manufacturing issues.

"Eighty percent of the other ingredients ... anti-microbials that go into the active pharmaceutical ingredients, those are also made in China, so that puts the entire supply chain at risk," Alkire said.

While manufacturers do keep a supply of those materials on hand, to keep costs low they don't stockpile huge amounts. Most of the drug companies, Gomez reports, keep about a four-month supply on hand. That means they should have enough on hand for now, but the coronavirus disruption has been going on for about two months. If it goes on much longer, we might actually start to see some shortages, Gomez said.


As for how big a disruption and how widespread the problem might be?

Gomez emphasized that we haven't yet seen drug shortages. Drug manufacturers are obligated to tell the FDA when they anticipate supply disruptions. So far, the FDA says they've been notified of a shortage of just one drug related to the coronavirus disruption. They did not name the drug, but they said they are working to mitigate that shortage.

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The FDA has been in touch with 180 manufacturers of human drugs to check on their supply chain. There are 20 drugs that the FDA has identified which solely source ingredients from China. So the potential for shortages is large, said Gomez.

As to what drugs might be impacted, all sorts of drug classes are potentially affected, Gomez said.

"We're worried about penicillin. We're worried about cancer drugs. We're worried about blood thinners," Alkire said.

They also include antibiotics, diabetes drugs, painkillers and anti-virals for HIV, said Gomez.

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So what can manufacturers or the FDA do?

Part of the issue is that manufacturers understandably have turned to the lowest cost suppliers for the raw materials.

Alkire says there's one solution.

"We've gotta look for other countries that can produce these products so we're not so dependent on one country," he said.

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The FDA says it could somewhat lengthen expiration dates on some critical shortages without affecting safety. But most of the solutions involve requiring stricter reporting of supplies on hand and to develop risk management plans and strategies.

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