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Kathy Wilets

Associate Director, Office of Public Affairs
Phone: 801-581-5717

Feb 27, 2014 2:24 PM

The number of on-going drug shortages is at an all-time high nationwide, leaving patients vulnerable to changes in care, including delayed treatment, care rationing and medical complications that include death, according data in a new study by the University of Utah’s Drug Information Service (UUDIS).

The study “Drug Shortages: A Complex Health Care Crisis,” will be published Thursday in the journal of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Near the end of 2013, the number of on-going active shortages peaked at more than 294 different drugs used in cancer treatment, anesthesia, emergency medicine and nutritional support, according to the study.

Patients have been harmed by the lack of access to drugs, which in some cases forces the use of less effective treatments. Some 15 deaths have been attributed to the shortages.

“The serious clinical impact drug shortages have on our patients is the most concerning aspect of this problem,” Erin Fox, Pharm.D., lead study author and director of the UUDIS. “Care is rationed on a daily basis in hospitals around the country, just because of drug shortages.”

UUDIS began tracking drug shortages in 2001. The data is published on the web by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

According to the study, the number of new drug shortages began to steadily climb in 2007 and peaked in 2011 at 267. Since then the year-to-year number of new shortages have dropped, but the total number of on-going shortages has continued to increase, Fox said.

Drug shortages occur for a variety of reasons, most commonly quality problems in the manufacturing process. Additionally, just three drug companies supply about 70 percent of the market, so there is little resiliency in the supply chain.

Hospitals work daily to minimize the impact of shortages on patient care, but the additional juggling comes with a cost. In 2010 alone, the estimated annualized personnel costs associated with drug shortage management was $216 million, according to the study.

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