Hospitals scramble to offset drug shortages

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Check your drug inventories--a whole host of medications are in short supply this year, according to the FDA. Hospitals are scrambling to make up the shortfall, in some cases rationing medications, postponing surgeries and using alternative drugs.

The reasons for the shortages are multiple, reports the Washington Post. The FDA has reported that in some cases, pharmaceutical company mergers have reduced production capacity for some medicines, and when those few have equipment failures or problems obtaining raw materials, it dramatically affects supply, the Post notes.

Regulators are rushing to approve overseas imports and help manufacturers' overcome production obstacles, but 89 meds already have been listed as scarce this year, with more expected through the summer. A total of 211 drugs came up short in 2010, more than triple the amount just five years ago, reports National Public Radio

The most troubling shortages are among cancer drugs such as cytarabine, which is used to treat leukemia and lymphoma. Antibiotics amikacin and the antiviral acyclovir also have been hard to come by, and some patients may have died as a result, according to a 2010 survey by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. But even more common meds like morphine and norepinephrine are in short supply, according to the Post.

"This is affecting oncology drugs, critical care drugs, emergency medicine drugs. We're doing everything we can under our current authority to try to deal with this situation," Valerie Jensen, head of the FDA's Drug Shortages Program, tells the Post.

To learn more:
- check out the ISMP report
- get more detail from the NPR coverage
- learn more from the Washington Post article

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