Drug shortages have huge impact on health systems, Congress told

July 13, 2011

According to a briefing presented to Congress on Tuesday, drug shortages are having an enormous impact on the nation's health systems through delayed treatment, less effective drug treatments provided to patients, and increased drug costs.

According to a briefing presented to Congress on Tuesday, drug shortages are having an enormous impact on the nation’s health systems through delayed treatment, less effective drug treatments provided to patients, and increased drug costs.

“The number of drugs in short supply is increasing at an alarming rate, and hospitals are working diligently to reduce the impact to the patients they care for,” said Rich Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association (AHA) in a statement. “Clinicians need more notice about drug shortages, so they have time to act to ensure that patient care is not disrupted.”

At the briefing, AHA and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) presented data from member surveys detailing the impact of drug shortages. The AHA survey of 820 hospitals found that 99.5% of hospitals reported experiencing at least 1 drug shortage in the last 6 months and nearly half reported 21 or more drug shortages. The ASHP survey of hospital pharmacy directors found that 90% of respondents agreed that compared to 2 years ago, drug shortages were associated with increased burden and costs.

According to its press statement, the AHA survey found in the last 6 months that:

  • Hospitals had delayed treatment (82%) and more than half were not always able to provide the patient with the recommended treatment
  • Patients received a less effective drug (69%)
  • Hospitals experienced drug shortages in all treatment categories
  • Most hospitals rarely or never received advance notification of drug shortages (77%) or were informed about the cause of the shortage (67%)
  • Most of the hospitals reported increased drug costs as a result of drug shortages, with many purchasing more expensive alternative drugs from other sources

At the same briefing, the speakers highlighted their support for legislation now before Congress to mandate that manufacturers alert FDA when there may be a supply disruption.

Kasey Thompson, PharmD, ASHP vice president, Office of Policy, Planning and Communications, said that in the 12 years he has been working on this issue, the criticality of the shortage and of the types of drugs in short supply has never been so high. He cited the availability of oncology drugs and emergency drugs as a matter of particular concern.

S.296, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn), would require 6 months’ notice of any discontinuance, planned interruption, or adjustment, or notice as soon as possible after the manufacturer becomes aware of an issue. H.R. 2245, sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), has similar provisions.

At present such notice is given only in some cases, said Joseph Hill, ASHP director of federal legislative affairs. The legislators said FDA approves of the legislation and that there may be hearings on the bill in upcoming months.