Drug shortages listed by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are exposing some of the ramifications of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including state lockdowns and social distancing regulations.1 Zoloft (sertraline hydrochloride), an anti-depressant manufactured by Pfizer and its generic counterparts produced by other drug makers, have been added to the FDA’s list of drug shortages in the United States.2 Accord Healthcare, InvaGen Pharmaceuticals, Lupin and Pfizer have all reported to the FDA that they are experiencing difficulties in supplying the drug to all who want access to it.3
Zoloft is licensed in the United States to treat a range of mental health disorders ranging from anxiety and depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.4
Increased Demand in U.S. for Anti-Depressants During Lockdowns
Zoloft is one of the most widely prescribed anti-depressants in the United States. Due to lockdowns and social distancing restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, which have caused new and worsened existing mental health problems, the U.S. has experienced a shortage of the drug as demand for it has increased.5
Isolation and anxiety triggered by fear of infection with COVID-19 and regulations requiring isolation and social distancing to try to lessen the risks of infection have increased the demand for mental health services. Zoloft prescriptions increased 12 percent year-over-year to 4.9 million in March 2020—the biggest annual increase ever recorded in the U.S.6’
Charles Nemeroff, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at The University of Texas at Austin has been treating patients with depression for 35 years and said, “In my entire career, I’ve never seen the shortage of Zoloft or sertraline before.”7
Shortage of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients
Generic drug companies that produce sertraline hydrochloride are facing a shortage of the drug because they unable to get enough active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) to manufacture the drug. Drugmakers usually do not disclose the source of their APIs but Lupin said it expects its version of the drug to be on backorder for a few months, and Accord Healthcare said it anticipates the shortage will last for two months.8
A spokesperson for Pfizer said, “We are able to supply our historical market share but unable to make up for increased demand,”9
Concerns About Drug Addiction
Some physicians are concerned about the long-term effects of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, saying that turning to such types of medications can lead to addiction.10
Drew Pate, MD, chief of psychiatry at LifeBridge Health in Baltimore, Maryland said, “I think the biggest things that trigger these kinds of feelings are the lack of knowing what’s going to happen and the lack of sense of where it will all end.” He adds that, “The medications which are most used for anxiety are very addictive and we should be very concerned (about) people taking them for the long term.”11
1 Berger M. Shortages of Antidepressant Zoloft Reported in the Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic. Healthline June. 4, 2020.
2 Drugmakers Report Zoloft Shortage Amid COVID-19. FDA News June 3, 2020.
4 Zoloft. Drug.com.
5 Edney A. Zoloft Falls Into Shortage as Virus Anxiety Strains Supplies. Bloomberg June 1, 2020.
7 Zhang D. FDA data shows numerous drugs in shortage, including a leading antidepressant. USA Today June 10, 2020.
8 See Footnote 5.
9 See Footnote 2.
10 Kawata A. Anti-Anxiety Medication, Sleep Aid Use Spike Amid Coronavirus Pandemic. CBS June 9, 2020.