Over 30 Million Americans Facing Prescription Drug Shortages

In this Guide...

Prescription drug supply shortages are taking a toll on tens of millions of Americans. Our analysis of the latest Census Bureau data identifies the states and cities where shortages are worst.

Key Findings


  • One in eight Americans experienced difficulty obtaining a prescription drug in October 2023, the most recent data available.

  • At least 15% of the adult population in Louisiana, Utah, Alabama, Alaska and Kansas have been unable to fill a prescription.

  • Just over one in five U.S. adults (20.1%) are experiencing a shortage of a necessary medication or other needed medical supply.

  • Large numbers of Americans are experiencing negative health effects and mental distress because of drug and medical supply shortages.
Study Overview

A nationwide shortage of prescription drugs is leaving more than 30 million Americans unable to obtain needed medications. And certain states and cities are being harder hit by the shortage than others.

The findings are a result of our analysis of the most recent 2023 U.S. Census Bureau data, and it paints a grim picture of the state of the prescription drug industry and Americans’ ability to treat their health conditions.

One in Eight U.S. Adults Are Having Trouble Filling Their Prescriptions

One out of every eight U.S. adults (12.2%) experienced difficulty filling a prescription medication during a 30-day period in September and October of 2023, the most recent period for which the U.S. Census Bureau has data. That figure equates to almost 31 million people in all.

The chart below shows the percentage of adults in each state who had trouble obtaining a prescription drug during the study period.

Click on image to enlarge in a new tab

Graphic table showing the percentage of adults who experienced a shortage of necessary prescription drugs, where the national average is 12 percent and the state with the highest rate is Louisiana at 16.9 percent

Drug shortages don’t stop with prescriptions, either. More than 10 million people also report experiencing a shortage of certain necessary over-the-counter drugs within the past 30 days.

Additionally, 5.5 million people reported experiencing a shortage of home medical equipment, and 4.2 million reported a shortage of other critical products.

In all, just over 20% of American adults suffered from a shortage of medications, home medical equipment or other needed medical supplies during the study period.

Census data also captured the percentage of Americans experiencing prescription drug shortages across some of the largest metropolitan areas, which you can see in the chart below.

Click on image to enlarge in a new tab

Graphic table showing the percentage of adults who experienced a shortage of necessary prescription drugs, where the national average is 12 percent and the state with the highest rate for any of the top 14 metro areas in the U.S. is in Houston, at 16.5 percent

Drug and Medical Supply Shortages Cause Mental Distress and Negative Health Effects

American adults facing medicine and medical supply shortages are experiencing a range of negative effects as a result.

  • 48% of those who have experienced a shortage have stopped or delayed the treatment requiring their necessary drug or medical item.

  • Nearly one in three (32%) said the shortage they’ve experienced has caused them mental distress.

  • 24% have experienced negative health effects as a result of the shortage.

Around 300 different medications are currently in a state of shortage, including scores of generic drugs. The list includes many of the most commonly prescribed medications, such as those used to treat asthma, ADHD, pain, seizures and shingles.

Common painkillers like hydrocodone and popular antibiotics like amoxicillin are also in short supply.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a database of current drug shortages and even has a mobile app that can be used to receive notifications and updates about shortages and supplies of particular drugs.

Causes of Current Drug Shortages

The inability to obtain a drug does not necessarily equate to a shortage. As the FDA notes, pharmacy supplies may be diminished due to ordering or local distribution issues and not because of a nationwide shortage. Supply issues of this type are usually location-specific and temporary.

The FDA considers a drug to be in a nationwide shortage when the current supply of all versions of a commercially available drug is unable to meet the current demand and a registered alternative manufacturer will not meet the current or projected demand at the patient level.

According to the FDA, the most common reason for a drug shortage is a manufacturing or quality problem. Supply chain issues for raw materials also play a role, as do delays and discontinuations of drugs that cause a sudden spike in demand for similar drugs. A sudden closure of a drug manufacturing facility can also have a ripple effect on supplies.

There is also an increase in demand due to Americans now consuming more prescription drugs than ever before. 70% of U.S. adults are now taking at least one prescription drug per day, a 14% increase from 2019. Prescriptions for medications used to treat anxiety and depression soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, as did those for ADHD.

Low prices for generic drugs have even shared some blame for the current shortage.

The problem is not isolated to the United States. Several other countries have been experiencing recent shortages since the onset of the pandemic, and the United Kingdom is currently dealing with a serious prescription drug shortage of its own.

The problem is also not new. The National Library of Medicine published a report in 2011 that detailed “increasingly frequent drug shortages in the U.S. during at least the past decade.”

Actions Being Taken to Address Shortages

The FDA takes a number of measures to address drug shortages. These include:

  • Expediting reviews and approvals of new production lines
  • Reviewing and extending expiration dates of existing supplies when safe to do so
  • Working with foreign firms to redirect products into the U.S. market

In November of 2023, the federal government invoked the Defense Production Act that aims to bolster domestic manufacturing of essential medicines. The Defense Production Act was previously invoked in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


The data used for this report came from the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, specifically Week 63 (Nov 8, 2023), the most recent data available.

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