San Diego medical malpractice attorneys, we are alarmed by recent media reports that suggest that hospital drug
shortages may be compromising patient safety. Reports show that these
shortages have delayed surgeries and cancer treatments, left patients
in unnecessary pain, and caused hospitals to give less effective treatments.
Even more troubling, an Associated Press review of industry reports and
interviews with nearly two dozen experts attributed at least 15 deaths
in the past 15 months to drug shortages, caused when the appropriate drug
wasn’t available or because of dosing errors or other mistakes related
to alternative medications.
In the worst known case, Alabama’s public health department this
spring reported nine deaths and 10 patients harmed due to bacterial contamination
of a hand-mixed batch of liquid nutrition given via feeding tubes because
the sterile pre-mixed liquid wasn’t available.
How Bad Is the Drug Shortage?
So far this year, 210 drugs have been added to the list of drugs in short
supply, according to the University of Utah Drug Information Service,
which tracks the shortages. That’s three times the approximately
70 a year from 2003 to 2006, when shortages began to climb steadily. According
to the FDA, these shortages include cancer drugs, anesthesia drugs, and
other critical medications in the U.S.
What It Causing the Drug Shortage?
According to the FDA, the primary cause of the shortages is production
shutdowns because of manufacturing problems, such as contamination and
metal particles that get into medicine.
Other reasons include theft of prescription drugs from warehouses or during
shipment, as well as the “gray market” vendors who buy scarce
drugs from small regional wholesalers, pharmacies, or other sources and
then sell them to hospitals at many times the normal price. These sellers
may not be licensed, authorized distributors.
In addition, many companies have stopped making generic injected drugs
because the profit margins are slim. To further compound the problem,
companies don’t have to notify customers or the FDA that they’ve
stopped making a medicine. That means neither FDA nor competitors can
come up with replacements in time.
To address the problem, the FDA recently convened a meeting with medical
and consumer groups, researchers, and industry representatives to discuss
the shortages and strategies to fight them.