Life-saving or medically necessary drugs are running low — or running out — across the nation, putting patients' lives at risk.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) surveyed 820 hospitals and found that 99.5% of hospitals reported a shortage in the last six months

Nearly half of the hospitals reported 21 or more drug shortages. As a result of a drug shortage, 82% reported delayed patient treatment. And 92% reported increased drug costs as a result of purchasing more expensive alternatives from other sources.

In 2010, there were 178 drug shortages reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As of June 20,156 shortages were logged.

Shortages include common drugs used for basic treatments: pre-filled epinephrine syringes used in emergencies for heart attacks and allergic reactions, propofol for sedation, and Bactrim injections for infections, according to the American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP), which released its own study in conjunction with the AHA research. It estimates labor costs associated with managing shortages translates to $216 million nationally.

Henri R. Manasse Jr., ASHP CEO and executive vice president, told AgingCare.com, "drug shortages are a national health crisis." He added that the ASHP is working on a number of regulatory actions to address the crisis, including establishing an early warning system to help avert shortages and removing obstacles so that the FDA is able to streamline approval of drugs in shortage.

Manufacturers are not required by law to report drug shortages.

Without these kinds of laws, there is little the FDA can do to mitigate shortages. An FDA spokesperson told AgingCare.com that the FDA Drug Shortage Program "works to find ways to mitigate drugs shortages" but that a number of factors are outside of the agency's control. Among them are manufacturing issues, including delays in production and limited availability of raw materials, and discontinuations, since manufacturers sometimes jettison older drugs in favor of newer, more profitable ones.