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Are Hospital Drug Shortages Putting You at Risk?

As 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.

Source: Fox News