Drug Shortages Exacerbated by Supply Chain Woes

Christopher Cheney, February 18, 2014

Assigning responsibility for the costs linked to maintaining adequate supplies of medications is at the heart of the medication shortage issue, says one pharmaceutical economist.

New rules and greater cooperation between major players appear to be leveling off a spike in medication shortages that began nearly a decade ago. But with at least 38 new drug shortfalls last year, providers are continuing to scramble to make sure the best treatments are available to their patients.

"We, on a routine basis, have to deal with shortages of medication that require mitigation," said Dan Johnson, director of pharmacy services at St. Anthony's Medical Center in St. Louis. When shortages occur, the hospital's pharmacists coordinate with the medical staff, wholesalers, and manufacturers to find alternate therapies or new sources for scarce medications.

In some cases, Johnson says the only option is to "restrict the drug to the patients who really need it."

Erin Fox, director of the Drug Information Service at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, says a recent shortage of oncology drugs demonstrates the potentially severe consequences for patients.

"When you have a limited supply, you have to decide which patients will get a medication and which might not," Fox said, noting "there is no other effective alternative" for several cancer medication regimens.

"That's a really hard position for providers to be in," she said.

Christopher Cheney

Christopher Cheney is the senior finance editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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