Report: Drug shortages cost over $200 million each year, pose public health risks  The historic health care act signed into law by President Obama one year ago was highly controversial, but ultimately aimed to bring down health care costs. Millions of Americans have been hurt by soaring costs and according to a recently published report, shortages of prescription drugs are driving up costs while hurting doctors' ability to treat patients effectively.

The analysis, performed by Premier, concluded that shortages of prescription medications across the U.S. resulted in hospitals incurring unexpected business costs of over $200 million. The jump in costs is attributed to hospitals purchasing more expensive generic or therapeutic substitutes in the wake of shortages, according to analysts.

While $200 million annually is a huge number, the ultimate financial toll could be even higher, experts assert, as the figure does not include indirect costs like added labor needed to manage the shortages and secure alternative supplies. In a survey of over 311 hospital pharmacy experts, over 90 percent of respondents said they had experienced a drug shortage within a six-month period in 2010 stretching from July to December.

The survey also found that over that period of time, over 240 drugs were either in short supply or completely unavailable, while more than 400 generic drugs were back-ordered for five or more days. Most worrisome, experts aver, is that shortages seem to be increasing. In fact, drugs that were most commonly cited as difficult to procure are often used to treat time-sensitive illnesses, including those needed for sedation, emergency care and chemotherapy.

According to Premier, there are myriad reasons for the shortages. First, many prescription drug manufacturers have consolidated over the past decade. The mergers and acquisitions craze that has swept the industry is largely a result of lagging profits, but the mega-corporations that have arisen are increasingly focused on developing drugs that will bring the greatest financial benefit - not necessarily those that will help the greatest number of people.

Moreover, the report asserts that unpredictable disruptions in supply chains and manufacturing have caused delays in the delivery of life-saving drugs. Meanwhile, many of the newly merged pharmaceutical companies have also stopped production of drugs that generate little or no profit, which has caused supply problems.

Per current regulations, drug manufacturers are not required to communicate drug shortages to hospitals, pharmacists or the Food and Drug Administration. According to industry watchdogs, the current regulatory climate is too kind to pharmaceutical companies and is hurting average consumers, hospitals and other health care providers.

Many lawmakers are working to ensure that new legislation is crafted to prevent such disruptions in the medical supply chain, but hurdles remain. "Physicians, pharmacists and patients are currently among the last to know when an essential drug will no longer be available - that's not right," said U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. 

"This common sense solution will help set up an early warning system so pharmacists and physicians can prepare in advance and ensure that patients continue to receive the best care possible. As we move forward, it is important that we have better coordination between the pharmaceutical industry, the FDA and health care providers so patients don't lose access to the medications they depend on," Senator Klobuchar affirmed.

Senator Klobuchar has introduced a bill that would require prescription drug manufacturers to give early notification to the FDA of any incident that would likely result in a drug shortage. If a drug manufacturer were to suspend production due to an FDA initiated review, the bill would also give the FDA the power to inspect the facility 90 days from when the problem has been rectified.
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  1. Prescription drug shortages are increasing healthcare costs while challenging providers in properly caring for patients, according to an analysis released today. These drug shortages increase the risk to patients due to the introduction and use of unfamiliar drugs to work around the shortages. Thanks for sharing this information.Great post