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HDA Pharmaceutical Distributors Manage 93 Percent of 2019 U.S. Sales

December 3, 2020

ARLINGTON, Va. — Data published today by the HDA Research Foundation reveal an estimated 93 percent of all U.S. pharmaceutical sales were completed through HDA-member traditional pharmaceutical distributors in 2019. As illustrated in the 91st Edition HDA Factbook, total distributor sales reached $519 billion.

“Each year, the Factbook quantifies the role distributors play as the critical connection point between healthcare manufacturers and dispensers — and in turn, the savings they deliver to the overall ecosystem,” said Perry Fri, Executive Vice President and COO of the HDA Research Foundation. “As the Foundation’s data show, distributors are constantly optimizing their operations to help fulfill the daily healthcare needs of all Americans.”

Prescription drugs comprised approximately $420 billion of distributors’ overall pharmaceutical sales, representing a nearly 6 percent growth over 2018. Chain drug stores accounted for the most prescription drug sales through distributors, at nearly 46 percent. Mail-order prescriptions also saw a notable increase, rising from 9.7 percent to 12.4 percent in 2019. Additionally, distributors worked with more than 1,400 manufacturer suppliers.

The HDA Factbook is based on surveys collected at the corporate level of HDA traditional distributor member companies with annual sales greater than $1 billion, with secondary data included from healthcare and governmental organizations. Data reflect distribution industry performance metrics and overall supply chain management trends for the 2019 operating year; accordingly, this edition does not reflect the effect of COVID-19 on supply chain operations.

Among the overall findings:

  • On a typical business day, each traditional distribution center picked more than 105,000 SKUs and processed about 4,000 orders.

  • The average total number of SKUs that distributors held in inventory was 45,645; prescription medicines represented 76 percent of total lines picked, with non-prescription drugs (such as health and personal care products, general merchandise and durable medical equipment and home healthcare) making up the remainder.

  • Annual costs associated with the returns process averaged $5.1 million per company. About 90 percent of prescription and 78 percent of non-prescription products were considered saleable, respectively.

  • Approximately 86 percent of distributors report scanning barcode labels on inbound from suppliers; all report scanning the NDC number, and barcodes at the case and item levels.

  • Forty percent are currently using EPCIS 1.2 for serialized data exchange (a requirement for 2023 Drug Supply Chain Security Act interoperability), with 60 percent reporting they plan to do so in the next 12 months.

The 91st Edition HDA Factbook: The Facts, Figures and Trends in Healthcare (2020-2021), available as a complimentary download, was made possible through the support of gold sponsors Apotex Corp. and Real Value dba Hospital Pharmaceutical Consulting; and bronze sponsors Ascend Laboratories, LLC, IQVIA, Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems Inc., Pharmacy First and Teva Pharmaceuticals.


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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