President Barack Obama signed an executive order Monday directing the Food and Drug Administration to take actions to reduce prescription drug shortages. The FDA has reported a rise in drug shortages in the last two years -– noting quality or manufacturing problems, delays in receiving components from suppliers and the discontinuation of production of certain drugs as the main reasons for the shortages.
David McCormack, CEO of Regional Medical Center in Anniston said his hospital has been dealing with the drug shortage problem for some time. However, the hospital has never completely run out of a particular drug needed by a patient, he said.
“We have been fortunate … the problem has been very limited,” McCormack said.
McCormack said most of the shortages at RMC tend to revolve around certain pain medications.
“But we’ve been able to substitute certain drugs with other, similar drugs,” he said.
He added that if the hospital is low on large single doses of a particular drug that a patient needs, the medical staff will just combine two smaller doses of the same drug.
According to the FDA website, Obama’s executive order will direct the agency to broaden its reporting of potential drug shortages and accelerate reviews of applications to change production of drugs facing potential shortages. The FDA does not have the power to force manufacturers to keep producing a particular drug.
The FDA reported 178 drug shortages last year and has continued to see an increasing number of shortages this year.
A survey the American Hospital Association conducted in July shows that of the 820 hospitals surveyed, more than 90 percent reported a drug shortage in the previous six months and nearly half of the hospitals reported 21 or more shortages. The survey also showed that 82 percent of the hospitals had to delay treatments and 69 percent of the hospitals were forced to give patients a less effective drug because of the shortages.
Jim Edmondson, CEO of Jacksonville Medical Center, said his hospital has also had problems with limited supplies of certain drugs.
“For about the past six to seven months, we’ve probably had shortages of 10 or 15 different drugs here or there,” Edmondson said.
But like RMC, Jacksonville Medical has never completely run out of a certain drug and has been able to meet the needs of patients, Edmondson said.
“We’ve just not been keeping the amount of drugs that we want on hand,” he said.
Edmondson said Jacksonville Medical has had shortages of various pain medications and antibiotics. He said physicians and nurses have sometimes had to substitute certain drugs with ones that produce similar effects to treat patients.
“The staff has been good at ordering pharmaceutically similar-type drugs,” Edmondson said. “It’s just sometimes the drug replaced is the absolutely best treatment available. It has not caused a problem treating patients … but we’d still rather use a particular drug if we have it.”
Drug shortages are hardly relegated to Calhoun County in Alabama.
Rosemary Blackmon, director of the Alabama Hospital Association, said hospitals across the state have faced similar drug shortage problems.
“The Alabama Hospital Association is supportive of any actions that can be taken to lessen the shortage and provide more advanced notice of a medication that will no longer be available,” Blackmon said.
Attempts to reach Stringfellow Memorial Hospital in Anniston for comment were unsuccessful.
Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.