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Drug Shortages Are Not Unique to Oncology Practice

On July 12, 2011, the American Hospital Association (AHA) released the results of its survey on drug shortages. Drug shortages are commonplace in oncology practice, and have been attributed to a number of causes, such as voluntary recalls, a change in drug formulation, unavailability of drug ingredients, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforcement actions that halt production. In addition, what has been called “drug hoarding” in response to, or in anticipation of, a shortage of oncology drugs has occurred.

The AHA Report notes that hospital drug shortages are becoming increasingly frequent. The 820 member hospitals that responded to the survey indicated that 99.5% experienced shortages of one or more drugs in the last six months and 44% reported shortages of 21 or more drugs. Although some of the hospitals were able to locate alternative sources for the drugs in short supply, 82% reported that patients at their hospital required treatment delays, and 69% reported that patients had to receive a less effective drug as a result of the shortage. Similar to the experiences in oncology practices, 77% of hospitals reported that they rarely or never received advance notification of drug shortages, and 67% reported that they were not informed about the cause of the shortage.

The AHA is working in collaboration with other stakeholders to offer solutions to the growing problem including: establishing an early warning system to help avert or mitigate drug shortages; removing regulatory obstacles faced by manufacturers and the FDA to avert or mitigate drug shortages; improving communication among stakeholders, including more complete and timely information about shortages; and exploring incentives to encourage drug manufacturers to stay in, re-enter or initially enter the market.

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