Drug shortages lead to action
Growing concern about drug shortages in hospitals has prompted industry groups to advocate for legislative and regu- latory action that would address what they say is a burgeoning crisis.
Nearly half of the hospitals surveyed by the American Hospital Association in June have dealt with shortages of 21 or more drugs in the past six months. Almost every one of the 820 hospitals surveyed—99.5%— said they had experienced at least one drug shortage in the past six months.
“It has been an issue that’s come up before, but it’s never been as bad as it is now,” said Roslyne Schulman, AHA’s director of policy development.
The University of Utah Drug Information Service has recorded 156 drug shortages in 2011 as of June 20, compared with 211 in all of 2010. The Food and Drug Administration, which measures shortages for “medically necessary” drugs, reported 178 drug shortages in 2010. The number of current shortages was not available.
Last month, the FDA requested that U.S. drugmakers provide warnings about production shortages for medically necessary drugs, such as oncology drugs, anesthetics, “crash cart” drugs used in emergencies and electrolytes for patients who are fed intravenously.
Although warnings to providers and the FDA can mitigate the effects of shortages, they don’t address the root problem. Industry and FDA officials agree that the causes behind the shortages include pharmaceutical consolidation, quality issues, increased demand and some corporate exits of less profitable product areas.
Hospira, one of the largest manufacturers of generic drugs in the U.S., provides daily updates on shortages of its products to the FDA, said Hospira spokeswoman Tareta Adams. The company has voluntarily disclosed to the FDA a number of shortages, which have been posted on the agency’s website.
As a result of the recent shortages, 92% of hospitals surveyed told the AHA that drug costs have increased. Seventy-four percent have bought a more expensive version of the product directly from the manufacturer, and 42% have sought out another group purchasing organization to buy products at a higher cost.
An analysis from the Premier healthcare alliance said U.S. hospitals that are forced to buy more expensive generic or therapeutic drugs could pay up to 11% more.
The AHA supports legislation in the House and Senate that would require the FDA to notify providers about drug shortages. Those bills, however, would not entirely rid hospitals of the issue.
“It will provide FDA with more tools to help address shortages and potentially even to prevent a few,” she said. “It’s not the total solution.”