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Drug shortages in ERs quadrupled since 2008

The number of drug shortages in the emergency room increased by 435 percent in the last six years, while the number of shortages of lifesaving drugs increased by 393 percent in that time.
By Stephen Feller   |   Updated Jan. 4, 2016 at 7:26 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Although drug shortages fell during the early and mid-2000s, a new study shows shortages in emergency rooms in hospitals across the United States have quadrupled since 2008.

Researchers at George Washington University reported the shortages come despite drugs being approved for use, but because manufacturers can't meet demand, have stopped making the drugs, or other various reasons the companies could not provide nearly half the time.

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"Many of those medications are for life-threatening conditions, and for some drugs no substitute is available," Dr. Jess Pines, a researcher at George Washington University, said in a press release. "This means that in some cases, emergency department physicians may not have the medications they need to help people who are in serious need of them."

The researchers analyzed data collected by the University of Utah Drug Information Service between 2001 and 2014. Drugs included in the study were within the scope of emergency medical services, whether they are used for lifesaving interventions, and whether an acceptable substitute is available.

Of the 1,798 drug shortages between the entire 13-year period, 610 were considered to be applicable to the emergency room; 52.6 percent of the drugs were for lifesaving interventions and 10 percent were drugs with no substitute.

The overall prevalence of shortages dropped from 2002 to 2007; however, there were 435 percent more shortages -- from 23 to 123 -- of emergency room drugs between 2008 and 2014. Of drugs used for lifesaving intervention or for high-acuity conditions, shortages increased by 393 percent from 14 to 69. And drugs with no available substitute grew by 125 percent, from 4 to 9.

Nearly half the shortages were for unknown reasons, based on the manufacturer not citing one, which researchers wrote in the study raises concerns for doctors and for patients.

The study is published in Academic Emergency Medicine.

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