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Drug shortages reach ‘all-time high’, including cancer drugs

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The American Society of Hospital Pharmacists reports 323 active drug shortages. The group’s CEO says shortages include emergency medications in hospital crash carts.

Hospitals and other providers have been wrestling with shortages of drugs, and the situation is worsening.

The American Society of Hospital Pharmacists reports a record of 323 active drug shortages in the first quarter of 2024. The ASHP says shortages include life-saving medications, such as cancer drugs.

“This is an all-time high,” Paul Abramowitz, the ASHP’s chief executive officer, said in a statement on the group’s website.

The shortages also include emergency medications stored in hospital crash carts and generic sterile injectable medications, such as chemotherapy drugs. “All drug classes are vulnerable to shortages,” Abramowitz said.

“Ongoing national shortages of therapies for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder also remain a serious challenge for clinicians and patients,” he wrote.

The previous record of drug shortages occurred a decade ago, with 320 shortages in 2014. The ASHP has been teaming with the University of Utah to track shortages of drugs since 2001.

Other shortages include oxytocin, Rho(D) immune globulin, and pain and sedation medications, the ASHP says.

The ASHP has been pushing the federal government for policy changes.

“We all know that managing shortages isn’t enough and is not a sustainable solution to the worsening crisis,” Abramowitz said.

The shortage of drugs has gained growing attention.

ECRI, a patient safety organization, and its affiliate, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, released a report last fall outlining some of the problems due to a lack of medication.

Some surgeries have been postponed and cancer patients have seen delays in chemotherapy treatments, according to the ECRI report. During the previous six months before the survey, 60% of the participants said they experienced shortages of more than 20 drugs, single-use supplies or other medical devices. Nearly half (49%) reported that shortages delayed patient treatment in some way.

“While medication and supply shortages have been widely reported across healthcare, we now know with certainty that these shortages are causing preventable harm and have the potential to cause even more if they are not addressed soon,” Marcus Schabacker, president and CEO of ECRI, said in a statement last fall.

The American Cancer Society also warned of the shortage of chemotherapy drugs last year.

The American Hospital Association submitted a statement to the House Ways and Means Committee in February asking lawmakers to help address the shortage of drugs.

The association has asked Congress to pass legislation to diversify manufacturing sites for essential pharmaceutical ingredients, and to identify critical drugs that require more domestic manufacturing capacity. The AHA also has asked Congress to compel drug companies to disclose when there is a surge in demand for essential drugs and where their products are made.

The ASHP also said it is going to continue to press Congress and the White House for remedies to ease the drug shortage. The group has said it welcomes the increased attention of policymakers, but the ASHP objects to federal government proposals that would impose financial penalties on hospitals for failing to stockpile drugs.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recently issued a white paper on addressing shortages, which suggested incentives or penalties to ensure hospitals have adequate supplies. The ASHP says that some hospitals lack the resources to store up large quantities of medications.

In his message to members, Abramowitz said the group would continue to make its case to policymakers for viable solutions.

“It’s long past time to put an end to drug shortages,” he said.

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