Each year, there are almost 45 emergency room visits per 100 people in the United States. Americans rely on emergency rooms as their health care safety net, to be used in the direst of medical circumstances. However, a new study published in Academic Emergency Medicine shows that drug shortages in emergency rooms across the U.S. increased by more than 400 percent between 2001 and 2014, making emergency medical care alarmingly uncertain.
The study, led by Jesse M. Pines, M.D., an associate professor of emergency medicine and health policy at George Washington University of Medicine and Health Sciences, assessed drug data from the University of Utah Drug Information Service over the duration of 13 years.
Researchers analyzed the data based upon reports of drug shortages made by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Two emergency room doctors determined whether the shortages were of drugs typically used in emergency rooms and then catalogued whether those drugs are used in lifesaving or acute circumstances.
The following facts emerged:
- Almost 1,800 drug shortages were reported between 2001 and 2014, out of which 34 percent were used in emergency rooms.
- 52.6 percent of all the reported shortages included lifesaving drugs, whereas 10 percent of drug shortages had no available substitutes.
- The most common shortages involved drugs used to treat infectious diseases, alleviate pain and counteract poison.
- Even though the amount of shortages dropped between 2002 and 2007, the figure rose by an astonishing 435 percent between 2008 and 2014.
Jesse Pines, the study’s senior author, described the shortages as a crisis and stated that they were getting worse.
The reasons for the shortages
The leading reason for shortages was manufacturing delays, responsible for about one-quarter of instances. Other leading causes include supply and demand (14.9 percent) and fluctuations in the availability of drug ingredients (4.4 percent). Pharmaceutical companies deemed “business decisions” to be the reason for 2.1 percent of the occurrences.
In over 46 percent of the shortages studied, there was no substantiated reason made available at all.
Paradoxically, greater FDA supervision may create even more shortages. Researchers observed that instead of investing in infrastructure or subjecting drugs to improved inspections, businesses often simply decide to halt the production. Pines said that this should be expected from a health care system focused on cost.
The economic link
The study further uncovered evidence implying an exacerbated effect on drug shortages of the 2008 economic crisis.
The researchers concluded, “The root cause of drug shortages should be aggressively explored at the national level by policymakers, manufacturers, physician-led organizations and patient advocacy groups.”
With regard to agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, the study recommended that they continue to gather quality, opportune information about the accessibility of vital drugs to hospital pharmacies.
“There are many ways to mitigate drug shortages, but there’s no magic bullet to solve them,” said Pines. “This could and potentially will get worse.”
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About the author
Sana Ahmed is a staff writer for Sovereign Health Group. A journalist and social media savvy content developer with extensive research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana has previously worked as an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster. She writes to share the amazing developments from the mental health world and unsuccessfully attempts to diagnose her friends and family. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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