U.S. is running low on some basic medicines

Registered Nurse Tung Tran hangs an IV bag for a patient at the University of Miami Hospital's Emergency Department on April 30, 2012 in Miami, Florida.

The drip, drip of IV fluid at hospitals, the drug doctors give people having heart attacks and medicines for cancer patients are all in short supply.

“On any given day we’re tracking usually 300 drug products that are in shortage,” said Cynthia Reilly with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

She says, right now, the shortage of IV fluid is at the top of everyone’s critical list.

“It’s almost, really like not having access to water,” Reilly says. 

 “When we run out of absolute basics, like we’re running out of now, that’s when things get really frustrating,” said Erin Fox, director of drug information at the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics.

According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the number of shortages tripled between 2007 and 2012. Sixty percent of the shortages are generic drugs, which are cheaper drugs.

“Drug manufacturing, in the U.S., is a business,” Fox says. “No company has an obligation to make any product, no matter how essential it is for patients.”

The FDA reports the number of new shortages has been falling since new rules went into place in 2012. But, says Capt. Valerie Jensen, associate director of the drug shortage program at the FDA, “some shortages are just not able to be avoided.”

Basic drug shortages are hard to fathom in a wealthy country like the U.S., but some of these drugs are produced by only one or two companies.

When a manufacturing line shuts down, or demand goes up, supplies run low.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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