Hospitals are running out of injected painkillers, causing a shortage crisis and the delay of critical surgeries. This shortage has occurred before in 2001 and 2010; however, they were not as long-lived, experts claim.
The Other Opioid Epidemic
The shortage has caused doctors to ration the opioid injections and only give them to patients with most pain. Other patients were given slow-acting pills that are less effective.
Health officials continue that the shortages increase hospitals cost for patients and affect every department in the hospital, including cancer clinics, emergency rooms, and operating rooms. The shortages began in 2017 after the FDA discovered sterility and other severe issues in Kansas at the Pfizer factory.
The factory is responsible for 60 percent of America's opioid injections, but due to the discovery, production has to be cut in order to rectify the problem. Michael Ganio, director of pharmacy practice at the 45,000-member American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, stated that by January 2018, the shortages became worse, leading hospitals to create teams that managed the supplies.
He continued that a survey conducted in April showed that out of the 343 hospital pharmacists interviewed, 98 percent have dealt with moderate or severe shortage of important opioid injections that treat serious pain. These injections include fentanyl, hydromorphone, and morphine.
"It's definitely the most severe I've seen in tracking drug shortages for 17 years," Erin Fox, a pharmacist from the University of Utah Hospitals, stated.
Experts Are Concerned
At the beginning of June, the American Medical Association claimed that the drug shortage was a public crisis and it will urge federal agencies to view it as a security threat. Experts say that mistakes are inevitable with hospitals and medical groups creating guidelines for stretching the supply of injections.
Dr. Ruth Landau, director of obstetric anesthesia at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, stated that maternity wards have faced a severe shortage of the fast-acting version of the drug, bupivacaine, which is risky if a woman goes into labor and does not get enough oxygen — the patient will have to get an emergency cesarean.
At the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, a patient of Dr. Ali Raja needed intravenous morphine or low-dose Dilaudid for an appendicitis removal. Dr. Raja stated that the patient was instead given fentanyl, which wears off quickly.
The head of the manufacturing company, Pfizer Inc., John Kelly, stated that majority of its opioid injections will be back in stock until the first quarter of 2019.