Impact of Anti-infective Drug Shortages [Article]

Clinical Infectious Disease (online January 19):


Anti-infective shortages pose significant logistical and clinical challenges to hospitals and may be considered a public health emergency. Anti-infectives often represent irreplaceable life-saving treatments. Furthermore, few new agents are available to treat increasingly prevalent multidrug-resistant pathogens. Frequent anti-infective shortages have substantially altered patient care and may lead to inferior patient outcomes. Because many of the shortages stem from problems with manufacturing and distribution, federal legislation has been introduced but not yet enacted to provide oversight for the adequate supply of critical medications. At the local level, hospitals should develop strategies to anticipate the impact and extent of shortages, to identify therapeutic alternatives, and to mitigate potential adverse outcomes. Here we describe the scope of recent anti-infective shortages in the United States and explore the reasons for inadequate drug supply.

Unfortunately the abstract doesn’t say much and a subscription is required to read the full article [grrr!]. The authors of the article basically evaluate the shortage of anti-infective agents over a multi-year period (2005-2010) and conclude that “anti-infective drug shortages continue to pose significant problems for clinicians and are a rapidly evolving public health emergency.” In addition they call for further research “regarding the clinical impact of drug shortages on patient outcomes”. How would one perform such a study?

Drug shortages have received a lot of attention lately. Shortages are certainly nothing new, but they seem to have become a bigger issue lately as the sheer number of unavailable medications is staggering. Areas like oncology and infectious disease are particularly hard hit as the number of treatment options in these specialties are limited to start with.

While there is no doubt that the shortages have impacted healthcare, I tend to agree with the authors of a commentary piece on the article that conclude that " it is difficult to systematically measure the resulting clinical problem or draw quantitative conclusions about differences in outcomes." Sounds overly simplified, but it’s true.

For more information on drug shortages make sure to visit the ASHP Drug Shortages Resource Center. Over 200 drugs and counting…

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