Rx Shortages Tripled Over Past Five Years
By - April 7, 2011

Stories of critical drug shortages are popping up with disturbing frequency in the mainstream press, including in the pages of the Chicago Tribune, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. The surge in shortages prompted a report by the Premier healthcare alliance, a health-care research firm founded and owned by health systems. The study, “Navigating Drug Shortages in American Healthcare,” found that such shortages have roughly tripled since 2005, with almost 90% of 311 pharmacists based in hospitals and other care facilities reporting they experienced a drug shortage that may have caused a medication safety issue.

In their findings, the report authors discerned dire implications for patient care, to the extent that some medication shortages had contributed to mortality. Of the drugs in short supply in 2010, 77% were injectables crucial to acute care, according to the report.

Researchers unearthed a wide array of root causes for the shortages, ranging from stockpiling to stringent regulations to contaminated raw materials to supply manipulation by “gray market” speculators. In terms of solutions, the report directs readers to a Drug Shortage Summit that convened in November 2010. Hosted by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the summit participants came up with 21 recommendations to help ease shortages.

Have your plan members ever experienced delays in receiving a drug because it was on back order? What specific drugs or classes of drugs have you found in short supply? How often are your members switched to an alternative drug because the one originally prescribed was unavailable?

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