ASHP updates policies, procedures for drug shortages

Guideline offers practical information to appropriately plan and communicate about shortages

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) has released updated guidance on the management of drug shortages, which focuses on policies and procedures that help minimize the effects of drug shortages on the quality of care. “The current situation of drug shortages is one where the most basic products are in short supply,” stated lead author Erin R. Fox, PharmD, BCPS, FASHP, senior director, Drug Information and Support Services at the University of Utah Health. She noted that the most frustrating thing is the unpredictability of drug shortages. Therefore, with appropriate planning and execution, organizations can mitigate the effects of drug shortages.   

The ASHP guideline focuses on patient safety considerations, factors that contribute to drug shortages, and how to appropriately plan for and communicate about the shortage. Drug shortages are a safety concern because a pharmacy must alter how a product is ordered, prepared, or dispensed, and clinicians must then prescribe unfamiliar alternatives. ASHP noted that several essential elements of infrastructure need to be in place before a shortage occurs, such as a drug shortage team, a resource allocation committee, and established processes for approving alternative therapies and addressing ethical considerations.

Fox discussed her experience with a recent shortage involving both lidocaine and bupivacaine.

“Both drugs are critically short right now and we had to change our practices in clinics and in some inpatient settings to allow flexibility for which strength to use. This change isn’t causing any clinical differences for our patients, but it did require significant changes to our electronic health record [i.e., about 20 hours of work] to allow our clinics to use either 0.5% or 1% lidocaine depending on what we have available at the time.”

FDA’s Drug Shortage website and database are updated daily with information from the manufacturers. Pharmacists and other health professionals can look up information on the website and FDA encourages manufacturers to provide as much information as possible about the shortage and the expected duration as well as which products remain available. The website can be accessed at, and any questions can be e-mailed to FDA at

For the full article, please visit for the October 2018 issue of Pharmacy Today.