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Shortages of Lifesaving Drugs Linger in U.S.

Longer wait time for vital acute-care meds despite legislation, study says

FRIDAY, May 6, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Drug shortages remain a problem in the United States despite government legislation meant to boost availability, a new study finds.

More than half of recent shortages involved acute-care drugs used to treat seriously ill patients in hospitals and emergency departments, according to researchers at Yale University, in New Haven, Conn.

Those drugs include antibiotics, intravenous saline and naloxone, which is used to treat drug overdoses.

"Our key finding was that up to 2012, shortages were rising for both non-acute and acute drugs," said study senior author Dr. Arjun Venkatesh, an assistant professor of emergency medicine.

Since 2012, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was authorized to deal with the crisis, "the shortages for non-acute drugs are decreasing and getting shorter but the shortages for acute drugs are increasing and getting longer," Venkatesh said in a Yale news release.

According to the researchers, drugs in short supply tripled over the past decade.

For the study, the Yale researchers analyzed data from 2001 to 2014. They found the overall number of drug shortages declined after the FDA gained its new powers, which could wrongly suggest drug availability is no longer a problem, the study authors said.

"You could look at the passage of the law and the overall decline, and view it as a success," Venkatesh said. "That's not the case. These acute-care drugs have been ignored."

Also, shortages of acute-care drugs lasted about eight months on average, compared to about seven months for all drugs overall, the study found.

Resorting to alternative drugs can raise the likelihood of medical error and push up costs and side effects, compared to the preferred drugs, the researchers noted.

The study appears in the May issue of the journal Health Affairs.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration has more on drug shortages.

SOURCE: Yale University, news release, May 2, 2016

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