In June of 2018, the United States had shortages on 182 drugs and medical supplies, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. The list includes IV bags, injectable morphine, anesthetics, analgesics, antibiotics, electrolytes, cancer drugs, and much more.

Why the shortage? The American Medical Association attributes the current crisis to the damage inflicted on facilities in Puerto Rico from last year’s hurricane season. There are also the government regulations in response to the opioid crisis that are reducing the availability of opioids. Production delays in manufacturing plants caused by disruptions in raw material supplies are another issue. In addition, some companies have switched their focus to producing newer more profitable medicines. There are only seven companies that produce sterile injectable drugs sold in the United States, which means any production disruption for any of those companies could have a significant impact on the market supply.

What steps has the Illinois and the American Society of Anesthesiologists taken to address the issue? The Illinois Society of Anesthesiologists passed a resolution at its 2018 House of Delegates Meeting that was presented to the ASA House of Delegates.  ASA has taken a leadership role in building a coalition of medical specialty groups and a bipartisan group of more than 135 lawmakers from both the House of Representatives and the Senate that has sent formal Congressional letters to the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging the agency to address critical shortages of injectable anesthetics and intravenous pain medications. This came after the ASA’s Legislative Conference, when more than 600 physician anesthesiologists visited Washington, DC, and asked lawmakers on Capitol Hill to find solutions to this critical patient safety issue by working with the FDA and other stakeholders.

A delegation of twenty members from Illinois lobbied legislators while in Washington, D.C. We took the opportunity to introduce Congressman Randy Hultgren to patients who require opioids and other pain management treatments.  Congressman Hultgren was also brought into an operating room to see for himself what physician led-anesthesia care looks like.

What is happening now?  Staff from the drug shortage stakeholder organizations have continued to meet with Congressional staff from the Senate HELP Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee to express concern about these ongoing shortages and share our recommendations.  The Drug Enforcement Administration scheduled a conference call with ASA and the other stakeholders to discuss these concerns further.  The DEA raised production quotas for two drug manufacturers (Fresenius Kabi and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals) to mitigate the shortage of opioid injectables. ASA President James Grant conducted a telephone call with Pfizer and the FDA Office of Drug Shortages to encourage information sharing and coordination.

In the meantime, if you would like to take action, visit ASA’s website to report drug shortages. It is critical to document the shortages as this information is utilized by all stakeholders, legislators, and government agencies who are working to find lasting solutions to the drug shortage crisis.