Antidepressant Zoloft and generic version in short supply, FDA says


A spike in demand for anxiety and depression drugs has led to shortages of some forms of the commonly used antidepressant Zoloft and its generic, sertraline.

Reports of the shortage, posted Friday on the Food and Drug Administration’s website, come as a new survey published Wednesday from the Johns Hopkins University shows a major increase in the feelings of distress and despair among adults in the United States.

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Not all manufacturers are reporting widespread shortages of the drug. Pfizer, which makes Zoloft, has been able to fill existing, ongoing prescriptions, but said it cannot make up for increasing demands of new prescriptions. Some lots of its 50 milligram and 100 milligram dosages are in “limited supply,” according to the FDA.

The same shortages were reported among companies that make sertraline. Accord Healthcare, Inc. said it’s unable to obtain the active ingredient for the drug “due to the impacts caused by COVID-19.” The company estimated the shortage will last 60 days.

Drugmaker Lupin also cited a shortage of the active ingredient, as well as an increase in demand for the product, which is expected to be on backorder for several months.

The shortages follow a 21 percent rise in the number of prescriptions filled per week between mid-February and mid-March for medicines to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia, according to Express Scripts, a prescription benefit plan provider. The company said the increase peaked the week of March 15, just after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

“I haven’t talked to a single patient who isn’t anxious,” said Dr. Philip Muskin, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City. He also said he’s noted a recent uptick in patients asking for medications to help them sleep.

“It’s not surprising we’re seeing shortages. I think that’s gonna continue for a while.”

Also Wednesday, a survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the percentage of U.S. adults who say they’re feeling anxious, sad, depressed or uncertain has more than tripled in the past two years.

The survey, which included responses from 1,468 adults, found 13.6 percent reported psychological distress in April 2020, up from 3.9 percent surveyed in 2018.

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The increase was most notable among Hispanics, adults under age 30 and people in low-income households.

“Young adults in particular surprised me a bit,” said Beth McGinty, lead author of the new report and associate professor in the department of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“We’ve been talking so much about how worried we are about older adults who may be isolated. But actually, it’s young adults who seem to be having the most issues,” she said.

The survey did not ask participants why they had these feelings of despair, but McGinty said it likely reflects the pandemic’s impact on education and job opportunities for younger adults just starting out in their careers.

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