Furr & Henshaw
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Shortage of Critical Medications Puts Patients' Health at Risk

It's widely known that prescription drug dosage errors are a major problem. Attempts to address the causes of medication errors have not been vigorous enough. Some medical providers and pharmacies have tried to cut down on errors by using more electronic records, rather than doctors' notoriously scratchy signatures. Much more, however, remains to be done.

There is also a major problem now with drug shortages.CBS News reported that supplies of over 200 drugs are running short. More than 8 of every 10 hospitals surveyed say the shortages have resulted in delays in treatment. These delays may have cost at least 15 people their lives.

The shortages include medications used in cancer treatment and in anesthesia, as well as others needed for critical care.

The Food and Drug Administration convened a meeting this week to discuss the problem.

There is no one single cause for the shortages. But the biggest single factor may be that pharmaceutical companies are reducing their production of certain generic drugs. Those drugs tend to be less profitable for the drug companies than those with brand names. And indeed, nearly 90 percent of the drugs in short supply are generic drugs.

The FDA says it is doing everything it can. It cannot require a drug company to make a certain drug. But the agency seeks to do a better job of communicating to drug companies and hospitals about which drugs are in short supply.

Meanwhile, patients suffer when they can't get the meds they need. Medication errors remain a serious problem. And now, lack of medication is a problem too.

Source: "More than 200 drugs in critical short supply," CBS News, 9-26-11

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