Surgical Drug Shortage Raises Concerns

Surgical medication supply could be dangerous for patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) U.S. doctors are grappling with a shortage of anesthesia medications, which has become increasingly common over the last decade. The lack of drugs could potentially have a serious impact on patient care and safety.

The shortages relate to several key medications used before, during and after surgery. In some cases the alternative medications also are in short supply.

"Ask about the side effects of anesthesia."

Dr. Gildasio S. De Oliveira, Jr, of Northwestern University, urged anesthesiologists to take the lead in dealing with shortages by developing and implementing responses at local hospitals before patient care and safety is jeopardized. He said a quick resolution could help protect the health of patients.

In 2010, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists listed 140 medications as in short supply. Alternative drugs also were low in several categories, with the shortages often spurred by product recalls, raw materials shortages and last-minute production schedules. Sterile injectable medications are particularly in short supply.

When such medications are unavailable, patients can face treatment delays, have procedures canceled or receive alternative drugs that may not be as effective or could have more side effects.

Dr. Oliveira is particularly concerned about a shortage of widely used anesthesia propofol, and Naloxone, a sedative that helps prevent overdoses of drugs such as morphine. Other types of medications that are tough to come by include those that paralyze patients during surgery and medications that reverse muscle paralysis.

Report authors suggest that doctors inform U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials about potential drug shortages. In some cases the FDA may be able to help by obtaining the raw materials or approving the import of alternative drugs.

In an accompanying editorial Drs. Richard P. Dutton and Jerry A. Cohen urge caution in using drug substitutes, concluding: "We must not continue to expose patients to these risks, when we know that proper action on the part of industry, our policy makers, and ourselves, can reduce it."

The report was published in the December issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia, official journal of the International Anesthesia Research Society.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 30, 2011
Last Updated:
December 2, 2011