Drug shortage law comes up short for ER

Although the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act of 2012 seems to be having an impact on national drug shortages, drugs used often in an unscheduled acute care setting, such as an emergency room, are still affected by shortages. In a study published in Health Affairs, researchers analyzed data collected between 2001 and 2014 by the University of Utah’s Drug Information Service and found that the shortages impacting acute care drugs was more frequent and prolonged in comparison to other drugs. According to the researchers, the median duration of shortages was 242 days for acute care drugs as compared to 173 days for non-acute care drugs.

Overall, the study found that 52 percent of the 1,929 shortages during the time period studied were for acute-care drugs. Following passage of the federal law in 2012, the number of active shortages of non-acute care drugs began to decline for the first time since 2004, but there was no corresponding reduction in drug shortages that emergency departments and intensive care units used. Alarmingly, the most common acute care drugs affected were antibiotics used to fight infections, painkillers and sedatives that affect the central nervous system, or drugs that suppressed or stimulated the autonomic nervous system (control breathing and heart rates).

No reasons were provided in almost half of the drug shortages. For shortages with a known basis, manufacturing delays and supply and demand were the main culprits. The results suggested that many acutely or critically ill patients in the U.S. remained vulnerable despite government efforts to reduce drug shortages.