Drug Shortages Plague Hospitals

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It's a rough flu season, especially when only high risk people can get the flu shot. But, flu vaccines aren't the only drugs in short supply. Hospital pharmacies face drug shortages nearly all the time.

If you're ill, you expect the hospital pharmacy to have the medicine you've been prescribed, but that's not always the case. Drug shortages are plaguing hospitals around the country.

"There are different types, from manufacturers being unable to supply the medication to a medication not arriving in the order that day," said Dr. Matthew Pond with the pharmacy at St. Joseph Regional Health Center.

The shortages range from antibiotics to therapeutic medications. But, in almost all cases, when a drug is unavailable, pharmacists can turn to an alternative drug that works very similar.

"There's not going to be that much impact on clinical outcomes, but there are a few examples where that is the only drug. When it's out, you better scramble," said Pond.

One example of a drug with no substitute is CroFab, the antivenin used to cure snake bites. The supply is so short, hospitals can have only a limited amount in stock at a time. When it's gone, which has happened in the past at the College Station Medical Center, doctors have to send patients to Temple or Houston to get treatment.

A recent study in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy indicates the shortages are negatively impacting patient care and hospital costs. Alternative medicines can sometimes be more expensive or not covered by insurance.

"A lot of times if it's a dire necessity, the health plan will cover it. Like I said sometimes it can cause patients trouble with getting clearance for that drug," said Dr. Eric Wilky with the College Station Medical Center.

But medical professionals say despite drug shortages, when it comes down to treating you, they'll get the job done.

"Although we do see shortages just like every other hospital we have not been left sort of out in the cold where we didn't have a treatment available," said Wilky.

Pond said a lot of the time it all comes down to how good of a drug supplier the hospital has. If the supplier keeps pharmacists informed of shortages ahead of time, problems can be avoided.

To see a current list of drugs in short supply visit http://www.fda.gov/cder/drug/shortages/default.htm