'It's almost unfathomable in modern medicine': US hospitals running low on lifesaving drugs

Hospitals nationwide are facing shortages of crucial, lifesaving drugs, with 116 drugs currently running low, according to the FDA and cited by NBC News.  

Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital is a prime example, getting as close as two weeks away from canceling a lifesaving cardiac surgery due to a lack of herapin, a blood-thinner, according to Paul Biddinger, MD, chief of the division of emergency preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"This is the fourth time in the last two years we've had to activate our hospital's emergency operations plan for a major drug shortage," Dr. Biddinger told NBC News. "It's almost unfathomable in modern medicine. I never thought we would get to a point in the U.S. healthcare system where we wouldn't have essential medicines to be able to treat patients."

Drug shortages are increasing and lasting longer, according to an FDA report published Oct. 29. Of 163 drugs running low in 2013-17, over 62 percent were due to manufacturing or product quality problems.  

Fifty-six percent of U.S. hospitals reported delayed or changed patient care due to drug shortages during 2015-17, according to a survey cited by the FDA.

In a market the FDA calls "broken," drug manufacturers have little incentive to produce older drugs that cost less, leaving only a few companies supplying certain drugs.

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