"It's just a matter of time now before we call for a drug that we need to save a patient's life and we find out there isn't any," Dr. Eric Lavonas of the American College of Emergency Physicians told the AP.
Although this isn't a new problem, it's getting considerably worse. The number of drugs in short supply has tripled over the past five years, to 211 medications last year. Most of the affected drugs are injectable medications used in medical centers in emergency rooms, cancer wards and ICUs.
The shortages pose dangers to patients and could also open up hospitals to the threat of lawsuits.
In one case at Miami Children's Hospital, doctors had to postpone chemotherapy for a month in the case of a 14-year-old leukemia sufferer due to a shortage of the drug cytarabine. Her mother said she feared the cancer could return if this treatment was witheld.
The shortages are widespread. They include thiotepa, which is used with bone marrow transplants; Norepinephrine injections used for septic shock and a number of leuprolide hormone injections commonly used in fertility treatment.
"No one is tracking patient harm. But last fall, the nonprofit Institute for Safe Medication Practices said it had two reports of people who died from the wrong dose of a substitute painkiller during a morphine shortage," the AP reported.
As experienced Virginia (VA) medical malpractice attorneys, we are disturbed by this report. Last year we noted how a visit to a hospital doubles the risk of death compared to driving on a highway in the United States. This is just one of the alarming revelations reported by Hearst on hospital safety in America. Almost 200,000 people die every year from medical errors and infections picked up after they are admitted to a hospital.
We have reported on many cases in which dangerous drugs have been recalled because of potential side effects. In 2005 we won a $200,000 award for a client who developed swelling in his left ankle that was due to a venous clot. His pharmacist gave him more than twice the dose prescribed by his surgeon and he suffered a rectal hemorrhage and required three hospitalizations to resolve the injury.
When shortages of drugs increase, so too does the danger that an incorrect or dangerous medicine will be used as a substitute or an incorrect dose will be prescribed.