Magazine article Drug Topics

Drug Shortages Impede Care, Threaten Lives

Magazine article Drug Topics

Drug Shortages Impede Care, Threaten Lives

Article excerpt


Over the past year and a half, drug shortages in hospitals have quickly emerged as a national health crisis, garnering the attention of healthcare professionals, patients, media, FDA, Congress, and the White House. The growing disruptions and delays in patient care due to shortages have compelled Congress to take action by holding hearings and introducing legislation.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) views drug shortages as a public health crisis that is putting our most vulnerable patients at risk for delays or disruptions that may have life-threatening consequences. The number of drug shortages have quadrupled over the last 4 years, which is the greatest increase since ASHP began tracking shortages over a decade ago. In previous years, shortages went largely unnoticed because pharmacists could usually find the medications that their patients needed, but that is no longer the case.

Today, patients are increasingly aware of the problem. Treatment disruptions and delays have been particularly troublesome for cancer patients and patients whose medications are critical to their survival,

Overcoming the obstacles

Pharmacists must go to great lengths to find products that are in short supply. They start each day by discussing the drugs that are in shortage, and how they are going to try to get these medications or effectively treat their patients with alternative therapy. They develop spreadsheets that list products in short supply, the wholesaler that typically supplies the product, the dosage, the amount of product that the hospital has left, and potential alternatives. Pharmacists then use this list to proactively inform physicians, nurses, and others where the challenges lie.

Constant communication with wholesalers and other hospitals has helped pharmacists identify who may have product. It is not uncommon for hospitals and health systems to work with one another to ensure patient care is not interrupted because the medication is not available. All of this time spent tracking down product or developing alternative treatment plans is time not spent by pharmacists in the direct care of patients.

Legislation is critical

In early 2011, senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa. …

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