It is no secret that the anesthetic drug shortage is a cause of major concern to many anesthesiologists nationwide. A 2012 survey conducted by the American Society of Anesthesiologists discovered that 97.6% of anesthesiologists (2,989 out of 3,063 surveyed) are experiencing a shortage of at least one anesthetic. 96% reported that they used an alternative drug, which affected surgical outcomes. Some patients took longer to recover, had a longer procedure than normal, or experienced unwanted side effects like nausea and vomiting. In an era of providing high-quality, cost-effective care, the drug shortage dilemma is becoming an epidemic, and has even been featured on 60 Minutes.
To combat the shortage problem, a coalition led by anesthesiologists has decided to take up a fight against federal law that they believe is contributing to the nationwide shortage. In the April issue of Anesthesiology, Physicians Against Drug Shortages (PADS), a grassroots organization co-chaired by practicing anesthesiology Robert A. Campbell, MD, contends that group purchasing organizations (GPOs) are engaging in “anticompetitive contracting and pricing practices, kickbacks and self-dealing of hospital GPOs are the root cause of this public health emergency.”
Dr. Campbell hopes that the campaign launch will force Congress to act and reconsider federal legislation that allows GPOs to engage in current business practices they deem collusive. On the contrary, Curtis Rooney, president of the Healthcare Supply Chain Association (HSCA), a trade association representing 14 GPOs, finds the allegations “irresponsible and dangerous.”
“The true cause of drug shortages is manufacturing problems, disruptions and barriers to entry in getting new suppliers online when there is a disruption in supply. The fact is that GPOs are taking a variety of creative and innovative steps to reduce drug shortages.”
The debate has caught the attention of the federal government, with six members of the House of Representatives asking the Government Accountability Office to examine whether GPOs are a primary reason for anesthesia drug shortages. What Congress determines remains to be seen, but what is undeniable is the drug shortage epidemic is snowballing into a major, politically-charged issue.