The Institute for Safe Medication Practices recently surveyed pharmacists and other healthcare practitioners about drug shortages, and the results are startling. These shortages often put patients at risk as they wait for needed doses, or they are given alternatives that could present a whole new set of risks.
The survey spawned interesting feedback about secondary supply sources. “Respondents voiced a growing concern that secondary markets (often called gray or black markets) seem to be able to gain access to drugs that are no longer available to healthcare providers through usual sources. These secondary markets contact pharmacists to advertise availability of scarce drugs, often at exorbitant prices,” ISMP reports on its Web site. “Some pharmacists expressed worry about the quality of products from secondary sources and felt that the exorbitant prices breach ethical lines, particularly when the drug in short supply is an essential lifesaving medication.”
Not all secondary sources are to be distrusted. But just the phrase “gray or black markets” should have you worried. I am glad that these pharmacists are concerned enough to raise the issue in ISMP’s survey, but the fact of the matter is that they are being contacted by sources they do not trust. But if healthcare practitioners become desperate in their attempts to treat patients, I wonder whether they just might be tempted to place an order, cross their fingers, and hope for the best.
So what can you do? Obviously, resolving the drug shortages would eliminate much of the risk. But if that is not possible in the short term, alert your customers up and down the supply chain to question any newcomers that market drugs known to be in short supply.
Of course, the sooner that an industry wide track-and-trace and/or electronic pedigree system is in place, the better.