“How many of you have not been able to get a drug you needed to properly deliver anesthesia to a patient?” I asked.
Every hand in the room went up.
“How did that affect your patients?” I asked. “Two of our patients died,” one woman answered.
I was speaking to a group of nurse anesthetists, enrolled in a business management program at Marshall University in West Virginia. I wish I could say their experience is unusual. It isn’t.
About 90 percent of all the anesthesiologists in the country reportthey are experiencing a shortage of at least one anesthetic. Drug shortages are also endangering cancer patients, heart attack victims, accident survivors and a host of other ill people. The vast majority involve injectable medications used mostly by medical centers, in emergency rooms, ICUs and cancer wards. Currently, there are about 246 drugs that are in short supply and the number has been growing for some time.
A new report from the Premier healthcare alliance that found that drug shortages have risen to “critical levels,” endangering the public’s health. Hospitals are scrambling to make up the shortfall, in some cases rationing medications, postponing surgeries and using alternative drugs.
So what’s going on?
Industry insiders point to numerous causes of the problem, including the fact that the generic drug market may be inherently more volatile than the market for brand-name drugs. Others point to supply chain problems. Then there is government regulatory policy.