Drug Shortages

By ThinkReliability Staff

Shortages of commonly used medications are beginning to impact patient safety.  The Institute for Safe Medicine  Practices (ISMP)recently asked healthcare workers to participate in a survey regarding drug shortages.  One out of three respondents said that shortages caused medication errors that could have caused harm to patients.  One out of four respondents said mistakes with medication reached patients, and one in five said that patients were harmed by the medication errors.  In addition, patient care has been impacted by the unavailability of some commonly used medications.  There have been reports of patients who woke up during surgery because sedative was being conserved.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers to notify them when there are drug shortages that have no alternatives, there are no sanctions if they do not.  Because many of these drugs have alternatives, the manufacturers are not required to notify the FDA, and healthcare providers are oftentimes not aware of shortages until they run out of needed medication, causing last-minute scrambles and potentially leading to medication errors, such as when an alternative drug has a lower dosage than the drug being replaced.  Because healthcare providers are so accustomed to the dose of the replaced drug, medication errors can result amidst the confusion.

The FDA estimates that approximately 40% of the shortages are due to manufacturing problems, including safety issues identified in inspections, 20% of the shortages are due to production delays, and another 20% occur when manufacturers stop making drugs.  Although drug manufacturers will not confirm, it is assumed that as insurance companies start covering fewer and fewer brand names and generic prices continue to undercut brand-name prices, it isn’t profitable to make some medications.  The FDA does not have authority to require manufacturers to make medication.  Also contributing to the shortages are increased demand, and shortages of parts and raw materials required to manufacture the medications.

Trying to address these issues and come up with some solutions to the drug shortages is going to take more work than just identifying the issues.  To that end, groups representing doctors, anesthesiologists, pharmacists and safety advocates have invited the FDA, health experts, supply chain representatives and drug manufacturers to attempt to work through a solution earlier this month.  Hopefully they’re able to come up with some actions that will prevent further deaths and medication errors due to this shortage