Record Drug Shortages Prompt Emergency Action

Medication safety experts are sounding the alarm on drug shortages, which have snowballed in recent months to create a major threat to patient safety.

Severe drug shortages have reached the level of a “national public health crisis,” according to a survey conducted by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) from July to September 2010. Survey respondents said shortages in the past year were “the worst ever, without a glimmer of hope for any improvement in the near future.”

The survey revealed unprecedented levels of frustration among pharmacists, nurses, and physicians. To cope with the shortages, more than half reported using extreme measures, such as hoarding medications internally and draining resources on expensive drug alternatives and substitutions. Many of the drugs in shortest supply are critical therapies, including propofol, heparin, and some cancer treatments.

ISMP has since sprung into action, partnering with the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and the American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists (ASHP). The newly assembled taskforce will meet Friday, November 5, 2010, at the Drug Shortages Summit in Bethesda, Maryland. They will be joined by representatives from the FDA, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and other key stakeholders.

The summit’s priorities are to address the impact and cause of drug shortages and draw attention to the harm they cause patients. Participants will also “discuss the potential need for changes in public policy and stakeholder practices” and “develop an assertive action plan” to prevent drug shortages from compromising patient safety and disrupting care.

“Health care professionals are most alarmed by the increasing volume of medications in short supply, use of unfamiliar alternative drugs, and the potential for errors, poor patient outcomes, or preventable adverse drug events,” said ISMP President Michael Cohen, RPh, MS, ScD, FASHP. The summit’s organizers hope it will open the gateway to future collaboration between relevant stakeholders to address those concerns.

“Stakeholders in the process will need to develop a strategic plan aimed at reducing the occurrence of shortages, ensuring more effective FDA oversight, and creating a comprehensive early warning system,” Cohen added.

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • Medicare Clarifies DME Exemption as Deadline Looms
  • Bending the Rules to Improve Patient Care