Medical centers nationwide have been resorting to alternate routes as traditional providers and quantities of medicine have dried up.
During the summer, just more than half of the 549 U.S. hospitals responding to a survey by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a patient safety group, said they had purchased one or more prescription drugs from so-called "gray market vendors"- companies other than their normal wholesalers.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports it is tackling the issue.
"The FDA will continue its efforts to work with manufacturers to ameliorate shortages. For example, FDA already expedites requests to qualify new manufacturing sites, new production lines or new raw material suppliers to avert drug shortages," said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh.
They added that, "All parties involved in the supply of drugs to Americans have a responsibility to make sure patients have access to the drugs they need. There are many factors that contribute to drug shortages, and FDA will soon release a report which reflects an important analysis of the problem and recommendations with respect to its role."
The FDA urges patients who are denied their prescriptions due to unavailability to consult with the physicians to be put on track for alternate medications.
"Communication is very crucial," said Deborah Caruso, director of pharmacy at WCA Hospital
She said the pharmacy department is very diligent with letting doctors and nurses aware of what the hospital currently has stocked, so that patients are treated in a timely and safe manner.
Betsy Wright, WCA president and CEO, said the pharmacists are in constant dialog with its medicinal vendors, which have grown in number as the hospital has turned to alternate providers much like the national trend.
"As soon as they are aware from a certain manufacturer that there might be a shortage or even a scarcity, they let us know so that we can communicate that proactively to our physicians," she said.
Nationwide, the FDA reports the shortage is most affecting chemotherapy treatments, antibiotics and "older sterile injectable drugs." At WCA, Ms. Caruso stated some of the products coming up short have been electrolyte additives that are part of injected hyperalimentation solutions, pre-filled cartridges that are needed for emergency drug situations, chemotherapy medicine and various types of antibiotics.
"Even though we have had problems, there have been none that we have not been able to obtain - either by getting an alternate therapy or another drug form of that same medication so we can provide treatment for all of our patients," she said.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
The FDA says the primary cause of the shortages is production shutdowns because of manufacturing problems, such as contamination and metal particles that get into medicine.
But when the FDA orders a production shutdown, it normally prompts other manufacturers to boost their output and expedites any approvals needed, said Valerie Jensen, associate director of FDA's drug shortage program. And when raw materials used to make drugs are in short supply, the FDA tries to find new sources.
The agency averted 38 shortages last year, she added.
Ms. Caruso said pharmacy her pharmacy department has a point person dedicated who "focuses on the issue on a daily basis so we are keeping up with things."
Reports of delayed surgeries and even deaths have crept into the national spotlight, but WCA staff stated their resolve to be proactive.
"Quality of care and patient safety continue to be our priority here at WCA. We do everything we can to provide appropriate, quality care," said Ms. Wright.