A new executive order authorized by president Obama encourages the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to further its efforts to reduce the number of prescription drug shortages currently plaguing the healthcare system.

Officially signed on Monday, the order gives specific direction to the FDA, telling the organization to take to be more proactive in both preventing the occurrence and minimizing the impact of prescription drug shortages.

With several months to go in 2011, the number of drug shortages has already equaled the whopping 178 total that the country saw in 2010. Drugs for things like breast and colon cancer as well as anesthetic medications are included in the list of prescriptions in short-supply.

Drug shortages can be caused by a variety of things including manufacturing problems, and the discontinuation of certain unprofitable medicines.

Though some people feel that the president's executive order represents much-needed action, others find it to be an effort that has questionable practical value.

An executive order can only do so much. It cannot change the fact that drug companies are not required to tell the FDA about every single event that might cause drug shortages (they are only required to report interruptions in supply), or, that the FDA is not allowed to mandate the amount of a drug made by a pharmaceutical company.

But, it does appear that Obama's order has tangible consequences. In a conference call discussing the impact of the new order, FDA commissioner Peggy Hamburg stated that there are plans to double the number of people working in the departments that identify and analyze drug shortages.


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The overall effect of the recently signed order is likely to be minimal in terms of short-term drug shortage relief.

Its influence will be felt more in the years to come. Over the past two years, the FDA has been able to prevent 137 drug shortages because they received advanced notice that a scarcity might occur and were able to work to avoid it. Government officials are hopeful that the changes brought on by this executive order will enable the FDA to prevent more future drug famines.