Koh told lawmakers that "although the FDA cannot require firms to continue production of a product or increase production in response to a shortage, it does encourage other firms to do so." Collaborations with drug companies averted 38 shortages last year. So far this year, he said, "I am pleased to report that for the first time, 99 shortages have been prevented."
The drug shortages also are boosting expenses for medical centers. At Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Megan Winegardner, coordinator of medication policy and safety for the pharmacy services department, said that as of Friday, "there are 26 medications in short supply today for which we have implemented some sort of alternative plan (restricting use, recommending alternatives, etc.)." Winegardner estimated that her department has doubled, from 20 to 40, the number of hours it devotes weekly to managing drug shortages.
At the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, shortages "are still having a profound effect on patient care," which includes being unable to provide some kinds of therapy, said spokesman Dean Forbes. The medical center hired a new pharmacist whose responsibilities include tracking drug shortages throughout the university and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, he said.
On Monday, the FDA will hold a daylong public meeting to discuss drug shortages, Koh said. At the session, Dr. Arnold J. Berry will discuss an April survey conducted by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, which found 98 percent of more than 1,350 U.S. anesthesiologists (and 23 others from Canada, Switzerland, Qatar and Brazil) experienced a shortage of at least one anesthetic in the last year. Nearly half the respondents reported patients having "a less optimal outcome" because of the scarcity of important anesthesia drugs.