Drug Shortages Impact Patient Care at Maryland Hospital

A nationwide shortage of a wide range of medications, including anesthetics and cancer-treatment drugs, has impacted the level of care at a Maryland hospital, according to a report in the Frederick News-Post. The shortage is affecting patient care all over the country, leading to greater risks for cancer patients, trauma victims, and other patients needing critical care. The situation at Frederick Memorial Hospital (FMH) provides a glimpse into the challenges that countless hospitals are facing. Additionally, a recent medical study showed that, for at least one type of cancer, the medication substituting for the preferred, but scarce, treatment is potentially increasing patients’ risk of relapse. The risks associated with a lack of a needed drug, or the substitution of an inadequate one, has a significant impact on patient safety and hospital liability.

The News-Post reports that FMH is experiencing shortages of about fifty drugs. The hospital’s pharmacy director characterizes twenty of those drugs as “critical.” Most of the drugs in short supply are generics, and while the hospital has reportedly been able to get enough of the scarce drugs to meet its needs, it has had to devise new strategies for patient care when certain drugs are not available. It has also apparently improved communication and cooperation between area hospitals in procuring drugs, with hospitals sharing their supplies when necessary.

The shortage situation nationwide may have improved somewhat. A similar report in the News-Post in July 2011, quoting the same hospital official, noted that FMH had shortages of eighty-nine drugs. According to the Drug Information Service, part of the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics program, drug shortages have declined from a high of 267 in 2011 to 195 during 2012, but shortages at some level are likely to persist. Shortages of any particular drug may be due to any of a variety of factors, including problems with contamination of supplies, such as with the fungal meningitis outbreak in late 2012, or a decision by a manufacturer that a drug is no longer profitable or cost-effective. A report in early 2012 in the medical journal The Lancet predicted that drug shortages may persist for years.

A New York Times article in November 2012 noted that ambulance crews in Ohio had extremely limited supplies of morphine, and therefore had to make judgment calls when responding to an accident about whether to administer morphine to an injured person or save it for someone who might need it more later. Stories like this are increasingly common, but cancer patients, who generally need a precisely-formulated mixture of drugs, may feel the most severe impact of drug shortages. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in December 2012 found that shortages of drugs used to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma, usually a very treatable form of cancer, led to a significantly increased risk of relapse for children, adolescents, and young adults receiving treatment. The substituted drug, the researchers found, was associated with a decline in the two-year “event-free survival” rate from eighty-eight to seventy-five percent.

The Maryland attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen can assist victims of pharmacy misfills and medication errors, who have been injured by drugs prescribed, dispensed, or administered incorrectly. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

Lawmakers Attempt to Strengthen Regulation of Compounding Pharmacies, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, January 26, 2013
Drug Shortages Shown to Contribute to Pharmacy Errors, While DEA Prescription Drug Crackdowns Shown to Contribute to Shortages, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, June 21, 2012
Shortages of Important Drugs Give Rise to Concerns Over Safety of “Grey Market” Replacements, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, February 29, 2012

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