An alarming shortage of life-saving prescription drugs has led to price-gouging by shady profiteers who are hoarding scarce medications and selling them at huge markups above their normal price, a new report says.

The report by Premier Healthcare Alliance, which represents hospitals and other health care sites, says predatory vendors are bombarding hospital pharmacists with offers to sell hard-to-find but critically needed medicines at average markups of 650 percent.

Drugs with the highest markups include Labetalol, a heart medication which has been offered at 45 times the usual price, and Furosemide, used in critical care and offered at 17 times the normal cost.

Shortages have created a “gray market” supply channel that circulates drugs that may be counterfeit, stolen, or stored improperly, putting patients at risk, Premier’s Mike Alkire told USA TODAY.

While hospitals often refuse to buy from such dealers, even reputable suppliers are charging an average of 11 percent more for hard-to-find drugs, costing hospitals an additional $200 million a year, according to a March survey from Premier.

The shortages occur for many reasons, according to the Food and Drug Administration, including manufacturing and quality problems and discontinuations.

Most of the scarce medications are liquid, injectible drugs that need to be kept sterile, and such drugs are harder to produce, store and ship than pills or tablets, FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess told USA TODAY. Adding to the problem is that some drugs come from only one or two manufacturers, said Dan Rosenberg, spokesman for Illinois-based generic drugmaker Hospira.

Manufacturers say they’re struggling to keep their medications from ending up in the hands of unscrupulous sellers.The Healthcare Distribution Management Association, whose members sell and distribute 90 percent of all U.S. pharmaceuticals, condemns price-gouging and does “not participate in the gray market”, said spokesman John Parker. He said members buy directly from manufacturers and deliver only to licensed healthcare providers.

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