Skip to main content

Emergency Department Drug Shortages On Rise

May 04, 2016

Although there are fewer new national drug shortages in the US as a result of the FDA Safety and Innovation Act of 2012, many medications for the treatment of acute and critical illnesses remain in short supply, according to a study recently published in Health Affairs.

Researchers looked at reported national drug shortages over the 14-year period ending in 2014 and found that the number of new yearly shortages has gone down since the law came into effect. However, there have been more shortages involving acute care drugs, and shortages for these types of drugs are lasting longer—a median of 242 days, versus 173 days for non-acute care drugs.

Of the drugs that were most difficult to obtain, 70% were injectables. Other medications prone to shortages included antibiotics, those for the treatment of conditions affecting the central nervous system, and those that suppress or stimulate the autonomic nervous system.

The study authors noted that the shortages have a particular impact on acute unscheduled care, such as that delivered in emergency departments, because these care settings rely on sedatives and muscle relaxants to treat those who are seriously injured.

The study findings suggest that inadequate drug supply continues to be a problem despite legislative efforts.



Chen SI, Fox ER, Hall MK, et al. Despite federal legislation, shortages of drugs used in acute care settings remain persistent and prolonged. Health Aff. 2016;35(5):798-804.

Back to Top