Shortage of Anesthetics Reported

TUESDAY May 10, 2011 -- Shortages of anesthetics are rampant across the United States, according to the results of a new survey.

The findings revealed that more than 90 percent of 1,373 anesthesiologists polled (including more than 1,350 from the United States) are experiencing a shortage of at least one drug. And, within the last year, 98 percent of the respondents encountered a similar problem, the poll by the American Society of Anesthesiologists found.

Among the anesthetics in short supply were:

  • Neostigmine (57 percent)
  • Thiopental (55 percent)
  • Succinylcholine (48 percent)
  • Propofol (40 percent)
  • Glycopyrrolate (17 percent)

In most cases, the drug shortages forced anesthesiologists to change the way they cared for their patients. In fact, more than 91 percent of respondents used alternative medications. Meanwhile, roughly 10 percent of anesthesiologists went so far as to postpone or cancel procedures as a result of the shortages.

Despite the ability of anesthesiologists to work around the lack of certain drugs, patients may often suffer as a result. About half of the patients who underwent procedures during a drug shortage experienced adverse effects, including:

  • Increased post-op nausea because of the effects of alternative drugs
  • More time spent in the operating room and in recovery
  • Higher health care costs

"The drug shortages are having a profound impact on anesthesiologists and patients each day," Dr. Mark A. Warner, president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, said in an ASA news release. "It is important for patients who are about to undergo anesthesia to have a physician who practices anesthesiology involved in their care; anesthesiologists are specifically trained to provide safe care despite the need to use alternative drugs when others are in short supply or not available."

The American Society of Anesthesiologists advises patients to ask about how drug shortages may affect their particular hospital or surgery center before undergoing a procedure.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health offers detailed information on the different forms of anesthesia.

Posted: May 2011


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