A shortage of commonly-used drugs is impacting care in hospitals nationwide. Reports released by the American Hospital Association and the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacists indicate a chronic shortage of crucial medications, with over 800 AHA-member hospitals reporting shortages. Shortages can appear quite suddenly in a hospital environment, with the need for a specific drug suddenly spiking to an amount greater than the supply. Hospitals and pharmacies struggle to compensate for these shortages, sometimes by prescribing alternative drugs, and sometimes by turning to less-than-scrupulous vendors with uncertain records of quality. The possibility for errors, both in prescribing and dispensing medications, is great in such situations.
In a report published by the Patriot-News, one Pennsylvania hospital stated that, out of around three thousand prescription medications commonly used, it experienced shortages of 211 drugs in 2010, up from 70 in 2006. This mirrors conditions in hospitals all over the country. Healthcare administrators around Pennsylvania have reported shortages of fifty or more medications in their facilities, often stating that the shortages are the worst in at least twenty years. This puts significant pressure on doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to identify and locate acceptable substitute medications, often with very little time to spare.
The Food and Drug Administration reported shortages of 178 drugs in 2010. The majority of the shortages are of older drugs administered in hospitals by injection or intravenously. Shortages can result from problems with raw materials and problems arising in the process of producing and distributing drugs. Some drugs may be held up by new regulations, but many drugs fall by the wayside if manufacturers find them not to be profitable.
When a particular drug is unavailable due to a shortage, medical professionals must locate another treatment. This often involves an alternative medication that may not be as effective, that may not be recommended for a particular use, or that may not have equally good quality control. Nine patients died at Alabama hospitals earlier this year, allegedly due to a substitute drug contaminated with bacteria commonly found in tap water and bathrooms.
Another option in case of shortages is rationing. Patients who cannot tolerate an available alternative drug, or patients in critical condition, may receive a reduced dosage of the main medication. This creates a risk of a particular drug not having the desired effect because the dosage is not high enough. Unfortunately such decisions often occur in a split second, as a result of multiple prior decisions and errors that led to the shortage in the first place.
Shortages of crucial medications sometimes allow drug vendors seeking to capitalize on the situation to offer scarce drugs at high prices. Such unprincipled vendors often lack proper licenses and have less-than-ideal track records for quality control and safety. There are currently no definitive statistics for how much of the market these “gray-market” distributors occupy, but hospitals and doctors say they receive multiple calls per week from them with a hard-sell approach.
The Maryland medication error attorneys at Lebowitz and Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers protect the rights of patients who have been injured due to medication errors in hospitals. Contact the firm to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.
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Reducing Medication Error Injury by Keeping Health Record Journals, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, August 30, 2011
Report Warns Consumers to Take Precautions With Drug Labels and Instructions, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, July 25, 2011
New Study Finds Electronic Medication Error Rates Consistent with Handwritten Prescriptions, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, July 1, 2011