Health Team

Drug shortage hits Triangle hospitals

Posted May 26, 2011

— A serious shortage of common drugs, including ones involved in critical care, has many hospitals scrambling for solutions.

"We're experiencing several shortages of medications," WakeMed pharmacist Lynn Eschenbacher said.

Most patients aren't aware of the shortages because hospital pharmacies are working to find alternative drugs or searching for other sources for the drugs.

The shortage has mostly hit injectible or intravenous medications like epinephrine, which comes in pre-filled syringes to quickly fight cardiac arrest.

"If a patient on the floor's heart were to stop, they would have cardiac arrest. We would want to respond as quickly as possible to get the patient the medication they need," Eschenbacher said.

The drug is available in bulk form, but WakeMed paid a premium price for pre-filled syringes to avoid slow response to patient emergencies. The hospital hasn't passed the higher price onto patients.

A similar drug, neorephinephrine, is also critically low in supply, so it's given only to patients who absolutely need it. Propofol, the most commonly used anesthesia drug, is also in low supply.

"Some hospitals nationwide actually had to cancel surgeries, because they didn't have enough of this drug," Eschenbacher said.

Alternatives to Propofol are more expensive, so some hospitals, including WakeMed, have imported a foreign-made version called Propoven.

Medical health Some common medications in short supply

Also in short supply at hospitals are Fentanyl patches, which are used to numb pain; Gentamicin, an intravenous antibiotic; and Trace Elements, vitamins delivered intravenously to patients who can't eat.

A few retail drugs are also in short supply at pharmacies. That includes Tamiflu Suspension, which shortens the duration of the flu.

Eschenbacher explained that drugs' money-making ability is driving some manufacturers to drop making them and turn to others.

"Some companies are discontinuing products they always produced, and these drugs may not be as profitable for a company to make, because they're generic. They're not new, great branded drugs," she said. "If only two or three companies make the drug and then another company discontinues it, another company might not be able to make enough of the drug."

The "Preserving Access to Life-Saving Medications Act," which is being considered by a U.S. Senate committee, would require drug manufacturers to notify the U.S. Food and Drug Administration six months before they discontinue a drug. That advance notice would give other companies time to ramp up production to meet need for the drug.


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  • amynmurray Jun 1, 2011

    So this really doesn't have to do with Obamacare...more to do with manufacturers not meeting US Food and Drug standards. Lines get shut down and other companies struggle to make up the difference in production.

  • ginaosbo Jun 1, 2011

    ObamaCare, working for you, so you don't have to!

  • ECUGrl2015 May 31, 2011

    Hmm Obamacare still sounding good to everyone? This has been going on in Canada for years.

  • MudLife May 31, 2011

    Well here's a hint stop handing out Percocet for every little thing. An orthopedic told me when i had a broke hand that all the ER wants to do is hand it out for everything they can. Plus so many people prescription drug addicts trying everything they can to get a hold of it. So that's your 2 problems there.

  • tarheellye May 31, 2011

    Minor correction--not "neorepinephrine," it's norepinephrine.

  • obs May 30, 2011

    "The hospital hasn't passed the higher price onto patients." This is hilarious. Maybe they are too busy charging patients $100.00 per pillow or $90.00 per IV syringe or 450.00 per titanium screw.

  • Milkman May 30, 2011

    The side effects of Obamacare have started and will only continue to get worse. There are provisions in the law that make it very unprofitable to make drugs such as the ones in question. Less regulation would lead to more drugs, but telling a drug company they have to inform the FDA 6 months before dropping a drug is fair.

  • burnhace May 27, 2011

    When there is so much money in the practice of medicine, is it any wonder that many people in that field are in it only for the money? We don't hear about greedy teachers or firemen do we? Oh wait. I forgot Wisconsin.

  • davidgnews May 27, 2011

    So who didn't plan properly here? The pharmcos or the hospitals?

    Someone is either clearly asleep at the switch, or overprotective of their relative market(s). We're talking about commonly used medicine here, so there should be no excuse.

    I agree oceancandle, it's all about the dollar. There are already a lot of people in healthcare that are only there to make money and care little about anything else.

  • oceancandle May 26, 2011

    This is all about the dollar, not the patients. Patients don't matter when it comes down to money.