Hundreds of drugs are unavailable to those who need them most, and it's happening right here in the United States.
After years of watching the situation get worse and worse, something is finally being done about it.
Without the drugs they need, paramedics in Oregon resort to using expired drugs to save lives.
One out of four surveyed providers across the United States say drug shortages have resulted in a medication error.
"Our members are scrambling to try to find the product and often times they're spending more time trying to find the product than they are caring for the patients," says Joseph M. Hill, Director Federal Legislative Affairs, American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
Sandra Kweder, MD says, "Really, drugs go into shortage because companies have difficulty making them.
The FDA didn't have the power to do anything about it. A presidential executive order followed by Congress's approval of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act is changing that. "A company producing prescription drugs in the United States must notify the FDA as soon as possible whenever they shut down due to a quality issue. If they're discontinuing a product they must notify the FDA within six months of that discontinuation," says Hill.
The FDA has been able to prevent more than 100 drug shortages because of the new measures. "We've seen a six fold increase in reports," says Kweder.
Still, some hospitals are creating their own solutions to deal with the ongoing issue. Duke hospital adopted an approach based on models used in organ donations.
To help avoid shortages, a south Texas hospital system has opened its own multi-million dollar distribution center. Now it can pack, label and distribute drugs to its hospitals safely and fill prescriptions in a fraction of the time. Still, the question remains…will the new law prevent more hospitals from taking such measures. "We're not out of the woods yet."
Two generic drug companies say they're expanding to help with the shortages. And under the new law-- review time of generic drug applications could be cut from three years to less than one year. That may help cut down on the number of medications in short supply.