02/18/2014 update: click here to listen to an interview with Sabrina Tavernise, the author of the New York Times piece on the recent GAO report
According to the GAO, the FDA prevented 154 potential drug shortages in 2012, compared with just 35 in 2010. This improvement can be attributed to a 2012 law that required drug manufacturers to notify the FDA about potential and current shortages of drugs that are life supporting, life sustaining, or used to treat debilitating health issues.
However, the number of drug shortages still remains high. There were 456 new and long-term shortages in 2012, nearly triple the 154 shortages in 2007. The GAO report recommended that the FDA improve its data collection and accuracy to better understand and address the factors contributing to drug shortages. But, the report also acknowledged that the FDA did not have control over the business decisions of drug manufacturers. Unfortunately, factors such as a low profitability or limited production capacities can make a drug prone to shortages.