"They don't produce an extra amount in case there is a shortage," Seoane-Vazquez said of pharmaceutical companies. "They produce enough to satisfy the needs of their clients."
For hospitals, stockpiling supplies of medications presents a financial drain, he said. "Hospitals could be required to have the medications to meet the needs of their patients, but it will cost you more," Seoane-Vazquez said.
In addition to sorting out the economic imperatives of operating a robust medication supply chain, Fox said boosting transparency in the pharmaceutical industry is needed to ensure a steady supply of quality medications. The University of Utah College of Pharmacy faculty member said the common practice of drug companies contracting out medication lines is problematic.
"Just like our food, we need to know where our drugs are coming from," Fox said. "Some companies are forthcoming with that information and some companies are not… I want to know: is that product quality, or is it going to be recalled? I want to know those medicines are safe."
Fox said the shortage of medications is particularly acute for injectable drugs, noting there are fewer than 10 manufacturers worldwide.
In a prepared statement earlier this month, Ralph Neas, president and CEO of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, said his group's members are playing a key role in providing a supply of affordable medications to patients around the world.