Monday, November 4, 2013

Berks health officials: FDA's drug-shortage proposal makes sense

The sooner doctors know that drugs their patients need are going to be hard to come by, the better able they are to make alternative plans, officials with Berks County's two major health networks said Friday.

Hospitals have to adjust because of drug-supply shortages all the time, they said.

"If it's a commonly used drug, where we use it on a daily basis, it could have a significant impact," said Dr. Robert Jones, chairman of Reading Hospital's pharmacy committee.

But if they have time to plan, doctors can often find another drug to substitute for one that is not available.

A new rule proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week would require drug makers to give at least six months' warning if they plan to stop producing a drug or have production problems that could result in a shortage.

"The rule itself isn't going to make the shortage go away," said Michael B. Jupina, spokesman for St. Joseph Medical Center. "It's just going to give us more time to prepare alternatives."

Hospitals keep some drugs in stock but order most as needed. They work hard to keep doctors abreast of possible supply problems but sometimes have to think fast if there's unexpected trouble getting a particular product.

When doctors can't give patients a drug they've been using, they have to carefully consider what effects the other options will have, Jupina said. More time to plan means better thought-out solutions and fewer mistakes.

"It's not as simple as you going to the grocery store and saying: 'Dang, they're out of Advil so I'm going to get Motrin,' " he said.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists keeps a running list of known shortages on its website. On Friday there were more than 240 drugs listed, ranging from buffered aspirin to injectable antibiotics for skin infections.

When a hospital uses a new drug because there is a shortage of another, it's not just a matter of giving patients something different, Jones said.

Physicians have to be trained to administer the new product, hospital staff has to work out the logistics of getting the drug and computer systems have to be updated.

"There's a big educational component to it in addition to ordering a drug physicians are not accustomed to ordering," Jones said.

More notice would provide more time to work out those details, he said.

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