Drug shortages hit Iowa City


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Pharmacy officials locally and nationwide said increasing drug shortages will continue to affect patient safety.

Drug shortages have caused hospitals across the U.S. to cut down on their drug supply over the last decade. But it seems to be getting worse.

“We’ve noticed the drug shortages in the past year more than ever before,” said Mary Ross an assistant director of UIHC pharmacy care.

In 2010, there were 211 shortages nationwide, a significant increase from the 58 in 2004, Ross said. The UIHC is directly affected by these shortages because it uses the scarce drugs, she said.

“It looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” she said.

But some advocates are pushing legislation they said they hope will counteract the problem. The Preserving Access to Life Saving Medication Act, now pending in the U.S. Senate, requires manufacturers to notify the FDA in any change in manufacturing that could result in a shortage.

Valerie Jensen, an associate director of FDA’s drug-shortage program said officials prevented 38 shorages last year by informing the FDA.

Because shortages mostly occur with generic drugs, they drive up the price for people who are forced to buy name-brand.

The UIHC is not the only one feeling the effects locally.

Mike Deninger, a pharmacist at Towncrest Pharmacy, 2306 Muscatine Ave., said he and his staff have absolutely noticed the shortages.

“We can’t get the drugs. It’s a constant imbalance,” Deninger said.

And officials in the medical community are projecting a steeper decrease in supplies.

“We see this situation getting worse not better,” said Bona Benjamin, director of Medication-Use Quality Improvement with the American Society of Health System Pharmacists.

Injectable drugs are the most susceptible shortages, Jensen said.

Norepinephrine, an anti-depressant, and Cytarabine, a critical cancer drug, are also commonly involved in shortages.

Jensen said pharmacists see fewer firms making drugs that have been around for a long time, causing the shortages, which can be prevented if they find out about them soon enough.

Though the shortages are dramatic, Ross said, she is confident in the officials handling the crisis at UIHC.

She said UIHC staff monitors the FDA website continually for updates on shortages. They also remain in contact with wholesalers to be alerted on pending ones.

When UIHC officials think a drug will hit into critical levels, they put restrictions on it, which limits the drug to a certain type of patient.

And the pharmacist society has been maintaining a drug-shortage resource center online with which people can get more information and updates on the shortages, Benjamin said.

Another solution is to import products from overseas, but that’s only temporary.

“Our biggest concern is absolutely the patients, we want to make sure the drugs are all in adequate supply,” Jensen said.

Despite concerns, UIHC is keeping a positive outlook on the situation.

“We have a lot of experience managing through the shortages, and we hope to continue to be able to manage through them,” Ross said.

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