Drug shortage called threat to health and safety
BY BREANN DOTSTRY
OU NEWS BUREAU
A worsening shortage of prescription drugs has hospitals and suppliers scrambling to keep patients supplied with critical medicine
While a small number of drug shortages occur in any given year, the number of prescription drugs in short supply nearly tripled between 2005 and 2010, the White House has reported.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there were 178 drug shortages in 2010 that included cancer drugs, anesthetics and emergency room medicines. The FDA blamed the shortages on a number of problems that included: quality and manufacturing issues, production delays, discontinuation of popular drugs, limited raw materials and a shortage of production lines.
In October 2011, President Barack Obama signed an executive order ordering the FDA to reduce prescription drug shortages and fight price gouging.
“The shortage of prescription drugs drives up costs, leaves consumers vulnerable to price gouging and threatens our health and safety,” Obama said. “This is a problem we can’t wait to fix.”
In February, the FDA announced steps to improve the availability of critical cancer drugs.
Mark Szlaczky, director of pharmacy at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, listed Bleomycin, Lidocaine, Fentanyl, Heparin, Magnesium Sulfate and Etomidate as drugs missing from his shelves.
Szlaczky is responsible for the hospital’s drugs, and said a lack of those drugs has, in some cases, led to the death of a patient.
Szlaczky said it’s difficult to quantify a death toll because doctors switch patients to less-effective drugs, or patients buy their own overseas where quality control is not as stringent. In February, CBS News reported 15 deaths nationwide in the past 15 months.
“We typically order routinely about 2,500 different drugs that are either available in tablets, capsules, and liquid or injectable,” Szlaczky said.
“Of those drugs I am having a problem obtaining approximately 15 percent routinely,” he said. “The problem is that 15 percent also accounts for my higher-utilized drugs.”
Besides the FDA’s list of reasons for the shortages, Szlaczky said, “The FDA has a tendency to ‘rush’ the release of some drugs, and sometimes those drugs are defective or the packaging is defective, which result in recalls — thus the situation we are in now.”
He also said that allowing patients to speak with drug representatives and CEOs of pharmaceutical companies it would “light a fire” in getting this problems resolved.
Kevin Dyzar, an account manager for Hospira Worldwide Inc., a pharmaceutical company, said he doesn’t think the shortage will drastically improve until at least 2014. Hospira sells generic drugs, tubing, IV pumps, PCA pumps, and Epidural pumps.
“Getting phone calls from hospitals saying that they have four patients in need of Foscarnet, a drug that is only manufactured by Hospira, and if they do not get it, it is very likely that the patient could die, is an example of the type of calls I have received since this shortage has began,” Dyzar said.
“A lot of time and effort has been put into getting the shortages fixed,” Dyzar said. “It is our main priority, and a number of things have been changed in order to help minimize any further issues.”
The most effective change Hospira has made is the “back order list” that allows the company and clients see what is ordered and when it is available. The list is updated daily.
Dyzar said the list does not prevent or change the drug shortage, but it helps communication between account managers and hospitals.
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