Patients, pharma execs express low trust in drug supply chains

A recent international survey reveals that 40% of patients who rely on prescription drugs suspect that supply chain disruptions will put them at risk for illness and death from ineffective, contaminated, counterfeit, expired, or improperly labeled or stored products.

The Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Vision Study, by the workflow solutions company Zebra Technologies Corp., surveyed more than 3,500 patients and pharmaceutical executives to gauge perceptions of supply chain resilience, responsibility, and trust and identify ways to improve drug pipeline visibility and transparency. The report was released on Feb 8.

While consumers became more aware of global supply chain dependencies and weaknesses amid COVID-19, the report authors said, these problems were already well-rooted in the drug industry.

"While the COVID-19 pandemic posed outsized challenges to the pharmaceutical industry, many of its supply chain issues were not new," the report authors wrote. "Current events and a shifting regulatory environment drive the need for supply chain enhancements and transparency from raw materials to manufacturer to pharmacy."

Desire to identify drug, ingredient country of origin

Ninety percent of patients indicated that being able to verify that their medications were not counterfeit, tampered with, or stored at an improper temperature is somewhat or very important. Eighty-one percent said that medication manufacturers should have to disclose how their medications are made, and 82% said that they want to know how their drugs were transported and stored.

Eighty percent of patients said that they want to be able to verify country of origin for drug ingredients and local standards for production of drugs. Also, 79% said they want to know whether the source of their medication is sustainable and that the drug maker uses methods to protect the environment, animal welfare, and public health.

Upwards of 75% of patients said they had experienced problems with buying or taking medication (82% of those aged 26 to 41 years and 61% of those 58 to 76). While those in the younger age-group were twice as likely as the older age-group to change pharmacies as a result of problems, 70% of all patients said they had changed healthcare providers, pharmacies, or medications.

Among the patients recounting bad experiences, 32% reported that they needed a drug that was out of stock, 29% said they received only part of their prescription owing to unavailability, 27% cited a lower price elsewhere, 22% said they didn't receive their medication when they needed it, and 21% reported a severe adverse effect.

Most patients (76%) said they were concerned about drug affordability, 73% cited shortages, 69% said they feared taking the wrong dose of medication owing to a labeling error, and 85% indicated that pharmacies, including mail-order operations, need to monitor the drugs they dispense.

Execs support traceability, transparency

More than 80% of patients said that regulatory agencies and drug companies should collaborate more to ensure patient safety. Among patients and pharmaceutical executives, more than 40% indicated that regulators and drug companies are responsible for preventing counterfeit, stolen, and contaminated drugs from reaching consumers, while 57% cited hospitals as the most accountable.

Among pharmaceutical executives, 84% said they are prepared to comply with traceability and transparency requirements, and 75% confirmed that they have already implemented—or will do so within a year—location-services technology to improve manufacturing workflows and medication tracking, reduce theft and tampering, and provide more visibility and information to consumers. Only 65% of patients, however, said they believe that drug companies are ready to change.

Pharmaceutical executives also said they are working through production limits, storage and distribution issues, reduced shipping capacity, and transportation problems. As a result, 92% said they plan to invest more money in tools to improve drug manufacturing and supply chain surveillance.

Among executives, 96% agreed that supply chain visibility is a competitive advantage, 44% said they trust supply chain entities to keep drugs safe, and 86% said that digital access to supply chain data is important.

Regional variations

The survey also revealed regional differences in responses. In Asia, upwards of 75% of patients called for more regulation of drugs, and 95% of pharmaceutical executives said regulatory agencies and the drug industry need to collaborate more to protect patients (the highest percentage of any region).

In Europe, only 64% of patients and 74% of pharmaceutical executives said that receiving drugs through the mail is convenient and safe, which was the lowest proportion of all regions.

Eighty-seven percent of Latin American patients said they changed a pharmacy, healthcare provider, or drug because of a bad experience, the most of any region. And North American patients indicated that they knew the least about pharmaceutical traceability, with only 33% saying they were somewhat or very familiar with it.

"Recent years have posted unprecedented challenges to global pharmaceutical supply chains," the authors concluded. "Despite disruptions, however, protecting the stability, security, quality and efficacy of medications and treatments remains the highest priority."

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