Regional first responders, hospitals face growing pharmaceutical shortages

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio – A host of complications in the manufacturing of some pharmaceutical drugs have first responders like those in the Middletown Division of Fire in constant worry when called to medical emergencies.

As first reported in the Journal-News, EMS crews are seeing a rotating shortage in critical drugs such as dextrose, a sugar water mixed used to treat diabetes, or Narcan, a life-saving antidote for drug overdoses.

And those shortages are not predictable from week to week.

“If we’re out, we just can’t get it,” said Todd Day, who oversees Middletown’s EMS crews, to the Journal-News. “It’s typically not a drug that’s going to be a life or death drug. That just means there will be a little more pain and suffering until they get to the hospital.”

Drug shortages have jumped from 56 in 2006 to 251 by 2011 on list published by the U.S. Food Drug Administration.

The Journal-News reports multiple factors contribute to the growing list of shortages, from fewer manufacturers to quality control issues to product recalls, stringent expiration dates and increased demand.

“Do we have a shortage of stuff that matters? Yes, we do. There’s some stuff (on the list) that scares the hell out of me,” Ernest Boyd, executive director of the Ohio Pharmacists Association told the newspaper.

And though hospitals have hired buyers and created other approaches to locate supplies of needed drugs, the problem has only grown.

“The last three to four years have been the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Bob Roberts, director of pharmacy for Fort Hamilton Hospital.  “A lot of us are scratching our heads. We’re practicing medicine like we’re in a third-world country at times. It’s kind of like having milk in the fridge, you expect it to be in there every day.”

As hospitals and medical responders continue to seek solution to the problem the federal government is getting more involved. The FDA is currently holding hearings to require more manufacturers to report drug stoppages and delays at least six months in advance, so hospitals and first responders can better prepare for those shortages.

In the meantime, the Journal-News reports, those organizations continue to look for alternative options, at times endangering patients.

“I’ve heard in the past few years of surgeries being postponed or canceled because of certain meds not being available,” Boyd said. “It’s nothing I’d be scared of, asking your hospital in advance if they have the meds you need.”

For the Journal-News complete report, and a list of drugs in short supply visit “Drug shortages leave hospitals, EMS in low supply.”

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