It is a well known fact that drugs are important in the treatment of medical conditions. However, many drugs are currently in very short supply, having the potential to affect you whether you are being treated in a hospital or taking drugs at home. The shortages involve cancer drugs, anesthetics used in surgery, drugs used in the care of patients with infections and pain, and electrolytes needed for patients receiving IV feedings. “This is a growing problem in our country. It has the potential to impact any one of us,” states David Phillips, Chief Operating Officer at Barnesville Hospital. “It does not matter if you are in Barnesville Hospital, The Ohio State University Medical Center or any of the hospitals across the state and country. It is already impacting health care decisions in hospitals across this country, regardless of size.”
In 2010, there were 178 drug shortages reported to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. The number of shortages in 2011 shot up to 267, well above the prior record and about four times the number of 58 reported in 2004. More than 80% of the drugs in short supply are the older, sterile, injectable drugs which have been a mainstay in hospitals. These drugs are normally inexpensive because they are no longer patent protected and have been made available as generics. As a result, some drug companies have decided to stop production of these types of drugs due to the insufficient economic incentive, favoring newer, more profitable drugs. The FDA cannot require a manufacturer to keep making a drug it wants to discontinue. Peggy Douglass, MSN, Director of Education at Barnesville Hospital states, “In many cases, only one or two suppliers are left. This doesn’t provide much flexibility when one of these companies has a manufacturing problem of some kind.”
According to Joe Jeffries, R.Ph., Director of Pharmacy at Barnesville Hospital, “We dedicate a significant amount of time dealing with the drug shortage problem. These are medications we use every day and we want to be able to supply our doctors with appropriate therapies to treat patients.” Drugs currently posing an issue for Barnesville Hospital staff include those used for nausea, alleviation of pain, injectable antibiotics, vitamin K, and the anticoagulant, Heparin. Jeffries states, “While in many cases there are alternatives, these are also becoming hard to find.”
The FDA reports having prevented an additional 100 new shortages in 2011. This is partly due to an executive order issued by President Obama in October, with provisions requiring more manufacturers to report potential drug shortages in advance to the FDA. Besides disrupting patient care, the shortages have lead to unprecedented price gouging in some parts of the country. In one case that’s being investigated by Congress, a vendor outside the normal supply chain offered to sell a hospital a chemotherapy drug that normally cost about $12 for more than $900.
On Friday, January 20, 2012, U.S. Senator, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, joined in a round-table discussion with more than 50 representatives from medical associations and 32 Ohio hospitals, including Mr. Phillips and Mr. Jeffries from Barnesville Hospital, at the Ohio State University’s Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital. The senator was there to talk about proposed legislation intended to mitigate the drug shortages. Senator Brown is calling on the Senate to pass the Preserving Access to Life-Saving Medications Act, which would require drug manufacturers to alert hospitals when they encounter a shortage of a specific drug. Based on the findings that inspired the bill, Senator Brown said any number of factors play into the shortages, including problems with the raw material supply chain, shipping, and manufacturers stockpiling drugs in short supply to sell at higher prices.
Speaking on behalf of Barnesville Hospital, Mr. Jeffries states, “We are deeply concerned and support the efforts of Senator Brown and encourage others to do something about these shortages.”
Serving as a patient advocate in this ongoing fight against drug shortages is part of the quality services which earned Barnesville Hospital recognition as a HealthStrong Award Winner. In the first comprehensive rating of Critical Access Hospitals, Barnesville Hospital was recognized by iVantage Health Analytics as one of the top one hundred Critical Access Hospitals in the nation. This tremendous honor is based on 56 performance indicators including quality, outcomes, patient perspective, affordability and efficiency. For more information about Barnesville Hospital and its services, visit the hospital website at Barnesville Hospital, find us on Facebook at Barnesville Hospital Association, Inc. or call (740) 425-5158.