Amid Shortages, Hospitals Trash Scarce Drugs

February 15, 2012 by staff 

Amid Shortages, Hospitals Trash Scarce Drugs, Mounting shortages of crucial drugs are creating a new dilemma for the nation’s hospital pharmacists, who say they find themselves caught between following government rules for storage and safety — or throwing away vital and lifesaving medications.

At one hospital in Florida, officials acknowledge they’ve discarded the scarce cancer drug doxorubicin, even as patients nationwide clamor for treatment.

“I’d never want to take a chance with not following the rules,” said Alan K. Knudsen, director of pharmacy legal services for Shands HealthCare at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “I wish I didn’t have to throw it out.”

Others, however, admit they’re bucking regulations imposed by federal agencies, including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, in the interest of patient care, as long as they have strong scientific evidence that the drugs are still safe.

“With the medications in very high need, we are using it,” said Thomas Burnakis, coordinator of pharmacy clinical services at Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville, Fla. It would gall him, for instance, to toss midazolam, a widely-used anesthetic known as Versed that has been in short supply for months, simply because it exceeded arbitrary storage limits.

“I am not throwing out the rest of that Versed,” he said.

And in the eyes of some patient care experts, he shouldn’t have to.

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