Last weekend the Chicago Tribune took a look at a problem I have been hearing about anecdotally for the last several weeks related to drug shortages at hospitals around Chicagoland and the rest of the country.
According to the Tribune story, the problem is caused in part by the recent FDA crackdowns at manufacturing facilities that have exposed quality control problems and are taking longer to remedy than initially thought. That problem is compounded by mergers in the pharma industry and a move away from manufacturing of generics to the more profitable name brand drugs.
How is this affecting doctors and hospitals? Predictably, not well. Based on what I am hearing, the shortage has been particularly bad for anesthetics used during surgical procedures and ER treatments, as well as injectables used to treat cancer patients. Hospitals are having to substitute older types of drugs that clinical staff may not be as familiar with as the more current ones. This is causing some anxiousness that the older drugs may not be administered properly and adverse side effects might not be as recognizable.
When hospitals are able to get the drugs they want, wholesalers are now charging more and those increased costs never bring smiles to the faces of the financial-types at hospitals and health systems.
Like all problems of supply and demand, industry observers say this one just needs some time to work itself out. In the meantime, several Senators have introduced legislation which will purportedly provide more notice to the FDA and providers when the pipeline is going to get pinched off. In the meantime, hospital pharmacies are working to keep supplies up and some docs can shuffling schedules to ensure that needed drugs will be there when a patient arrives for treatment.
So far, there are no reported deaths or illness related to the current drug shortage, so lets keep our fingers crossed that it will pass without serious incident.