Hospitals worried about drug shortages

June 2, 2011 2:04:59 PM PDT
A stunning revelation about life saving prescription drugs. At any given time there is a severe shortage of hundreds of drugs. In fact, the problem is so bad across the country many hospitals have been forced to turn patients away.

At Westchester Medical Center, Chief Medical Officer Renee Garrick says the staff now gets daily alerts about which drugs are in short supply.

And she says most people aren't aware of the shortages hospitals are facing.

"If you have a gasoline shortage, the whole world knows about it in 30 seconds. So, we have drug shortages that can affect the ability to get the drug to the bedside in someone who's had a heart attack, someone who's needs blood pressure support, someone who needs antibiotics. And I think public awareness of that is not what it should be," she said.

Each hospital is different.

In Phoenix, for example, pharmacists have started reserving supplies of a hard-to-get drug to treat leukemia and lymphoma.

More than 200 drugs were in short supply last year, and this year is no better.

"It is getting worse, because, so far, in 2011, if you look at the first three months of the year, so the first 90 days of the year, we tracked 89 brand new shortages. So that's, almost, if you think about it, a new shortage a day," adds Dr. Garrick.

The FDA blames manufacturing problems and delays, as well as drugs being discontinued.

The agency says most shortages involve older drugs made by fewer firms and says, "These drugs often get discontinued by companies and replaced by more profitable, newer drugs. Fda continues to do all we can within our authority to resolve these shortages."

But, in the meantime, hospitals are scrambling for alternatives.

"You either delay treatment until the drug is available or you seek an alternative drug, but the alternative drug may not have been tested as part of that regiment, so you won't really know what the outcome will be," adds

Newly proposed federal regulations would force drug makers to warn the FDA six months in advance before discontinuing any drugs.

Drug makers say they're willing to working with the FDA, but to find a solution that works for everyone.