Drug Shortages Affect Hospitals Across US

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Drug Shortages Affect Hospitals Across US

By Victoria Kim 07/06/18
The national drug shortage has been severe enough for the FDA to allow Pfizer to sell products that normally would have been recalled.
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doctors pushing patient on hospital gurney to emergency room

Emergency departments across the United States are feeling the strain of drug shortages that are affecting physicians’ ability to treat pain and other ailments.

According to the New York Times, some hospitals, like Norwegian American Hospital in Chicago, have been “struggling for months” lacking crucial drugs like morphine, epinephrine (adrenaline) and diltiazem, a heart medication. Norwegian has not had morphine since March of this year, the Times reported.

According to a May 2018 survey of 247 emergency doctors, conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians, 9 in 10 said they did not have access to important medicines, which they said negatively affected nearly 4 in 10 patients.

While the Times notes that while the reason behind the drug shortage is complex—including the fact that drug companies have little incentive to manufacture drugs that are difficult to make but “cheaply priced”—much of it has to do with manufacturing issues at Pfizer, which produces the majority of generic injectable drugs in the U.S.

“Most of the time, the problem is some type of quality issue related to machine or raw materials,” said Erin Fox, senior director of the University of Utah’s drug information and support services, according to CBS News. “It could be contaminated particles, bacteria, metal shavings, glass particles—all kinds of things. There’s a real quality control problem.”

Pfizer has received multiple warning letters from the Food and Drug Administration regarding issues of quality control, forcing it to slow down production while it addresses these issues. The company estimated that many of its drugs, like morphine, will not be available until 2019, according to the Times.

Incredibly, the drug shortage has been severe enough for the FDA to allow “Pfizer to sell products that normally would have been recalled: In May, Pfizer released morphine and other drugs in cracked syringes, with instructions to health care providers to filter the drugs before injecting them,” the Times reported.

Being the largest pharmaceutical company in the nation, Pfizer’s shortage issues have carried over to competitors who have struggled to fill the void.

The lack of pain medications has been a “huge issue,” according to one emergency room doctor at Norwegian American Hospital. “[Patients] are often disappointed and frustrated that the system is not functioning at the level it should be.”

Fox, who studies drug shortages, explained that the shortage of pain medications not only has to do with manufacturing issues, but opioid restrictions put in place by the government in response to the drug abuse epidemic.

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