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Nearly All Anesthesiologists Report Drug Shortages

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, April 19, 2012

Anesthesiologists are scrambling for sedation medications across the country, in some cases postponing or changing surgical procedures because of shortages. And in a few cases, patients have died because a needed medication wasn't available.

Those are stark responses to a survey sent out recently by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, which said it captured views from 3,033 anesthesiologists from 50 states and six nations.

Of all the responders, 97.6% said they were currently experiencing a shortage of at least one drug.

Fentanyl appeared to be the drug that was the biggest problem, reported by 66.3% of survey respondents. Other drugs included thiopental, said to be in short supply by 40.3%; succinylcholine, 21.2%; propofol, 19.2%; and pancuronium, 15.2%.

“The 2012 ASA Drug Shortages Survey demonstrates the tremendous toll the shortages of anesthetics are taking on our members and ultimately patients,” said ASA President Jerry A. Cohen, M.D. “The survey confirms that the crisis continues to worsen in its severity and depth across the nation. Tragically, the shortages now may be leading to instances of mortality,” said Dr. Cohen.

According to a similar survey conducted in April, 2011, the percentage of doctors reporting sedation and anesthesia drugs has increased from 90% to 97.6%.

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