Acute Drug Shortages Forcing Workarounds in Hospitals

FDA lists 58 medications in short supply

In hospitals nationwide, workarounds to compensate for medication shortages are daily routines for treating patients––and health experts say it’s not about to change any time soon, according to a report from WNPR News.

Acute-care drugs in short supply nationally include antibiotics, antipsychotics, intravenous saline, and morphine.

In Connecticut, hospital officials say they are turning to alternative drugs, rationing supplies, or seeking new suppliers to work around the shortages.

Bridgeport and Greenwich hospitals are facing shortages of antibiotics, including cefepime, tigecycline, and ceftin, as well as anesthetics used in surgeries, intravenous bags, and saline solutions, according to Stacy Vaeth, director of corporate pharmacy services for the hospitals. That’s in addition to ongoing shortages of various cancer drugs, she said.

The hospitals also can’t obtain 150-mg doses of amiodarone, which is used to treat irregular heart rhythms. Instead, they can get 18-mL vials of the medication, but that is not a ready-to-administer dose, Vaeth said.

Drug shortages often trace back to mergers or acquisitions by pharmaceutical companies. If two drug makers that manufacture a certain medication merge, typically only one of the medications will be produced, Vaeth explained.

Shortages also result from production disruptions, such as when FDA inspectors order a drug maker to suspend manufacturing over quality concerns.

Hospitals sometimes go months without certain medications. A recent study of drug shortages led by Yale University found that the median duration of shortages was 210 days overall, and 242 days for acute-care drugs.

The situation has become so urgent that U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) wants pharmaceutical companies subpoenaed and investigated to determine whether drug shortages are naturally occurring or being artificially created.

“Hospitals cannot forever triage. There are real health threats,” Blumenthal said.

The FDA, which tracks shortages, listed 58 medications as being in short supply as of July 8.

In 2012, the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy surveyed pharmacy directors at hospitals, ambulatory centers, and other facilities about drug shortages. Of 193 respondents, 101 said an adverse event at their site was “possibly/probably” related to shortages; 46 said events requiring intervention were spurred by shortages; three said shortages caused a disabling adverse event; and two attributed patient deaths to shortages.

Source: WNPR News; July 11, 2016.