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91.4 Percent of U.S. Pharmaceutical Sales Channeled Through HDMA-Member Distributors

December 16, 2015

ARLINGTON, Va. — Approximately 91 percent of pharmaceutical products — about $350 billion — came to market through HDMA-member traditional pharmaceutical distributors in 2014, according to the 86th Edition HDMA Factbook: The Facts, Figures and Trends in Healthcare (2015-2016). This represents a 1.3 percentage point increase from 2013. Meanwhile, the Factbook notes that spending on pharmaceuticals continues to rise in the U.S., reaching about $374 billion in 2014, according to IMS Health.

Published by HDMA’s non-profit research arm, the Center for Healthcare Supply Chain Research, this annual reference tool presents performance metrics on the pharmaceutical distribution industry and trends in the pharmaceutical supply chain gleaned from primary surveys of HDMA-member distributors (at the corporate level of organizations with annual sales greater than $1 billion), as well as secondary data from other leading healthcare organizations. Areas featured include distributor demographics and characteristics, finance, information systems, operations, customers, healthcare products and market characteristics. An international section also is included.

The 2015-2016 edition is sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Apotex Corporation; RDC-Rochester Drug Cooperative, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA; Smith Drug Company, div. J M Smith Corporation; and, Pharmacy First.

Findings also reported in the Factbook include: 

  • Prescription pharmaceuticals represent about 98 percent of distributor sales volume (increasing marginally from 2013). In particular, sales of specialty and generic pharmaceuticals continue to increase, at 22.6 and 14.1 percent, respectively.

  • Chain drug stores remain the largest customer for distributors, representing one-third of all sales, at about $123 billion. Independent drug stores, as well as hospitals and HMOs, round out the top three, each at nearly $54 billion.

  • Distributors reported purchasing from an average of nearly 1,500 manufacturers.

  • A typical distribution center picked about 91,000 SKUs in 2014, managing around 4,300 orders per day, with an average of nine lines picked per order. About 66 percent reported using automated picking methods. A typical distribution center inventory was approximately 47,000 SKUs (increasing from 2013).

  • Distributors averaged a 94.4 percent fill rate and a net profit margin of 1.3 percent.

  • In 2014, pharmaceutical sales for the top 20 therapeutic classes increased by nearly 15 percent, accounting for approximately $293 billion of the total market.

  • Total annual costs associated with the returns process have decreased since 2013, and now average $2.9 million.  

  • Major findings from CMS show that U.S. health expenditures increased by 5.6 percent in 2014, reaching $3,100 billion, up from $2,900 billion the year before.

“This year’s Factbook offers a snapshot of how healthcare distributors are providing efficiencies as they seamlessly deliver millions of healthcare products across the country,” said Karen J. Ribler, Executive Vice President and COO of the Center for Healthcare Supply Chain Research. “With the increasing demand in the healthcare sector, we will only see their importance increase in the years to come.”   

The 86th Edition HDMA Factbook: The Facts, Figures and Trends in Healthcare (2015-2016) may be downloaded for $250 as a single-use PDF from Team and corporate-use licenses also are available. Visit the Center website for further details.   


The HDA Research Foundation is the 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA). The Foundation serves as the thought leader in driving research, education and discussion for all healthcare supply chain stakeholders, enabling the industry's ability to deliver efficient, safe and secure patient access to medicines and medical products. Learn more at


The Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA) represents primary pharmaceutical distributors — the vital link between the nation’s pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics and others nationwide. Since 1876, HDA has helped members navigate regulations and innovations to get the right medicines to the right patients at the right time, safely and efficiently. The HDA Research Foundation, HDA’s nonprofit charitable foundation, serves the healthcare industry by providing research and education focused on priority healthcare supply chain issues.


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