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Emergency Rooms Across the Country Running Out of Vital Drugs

By Jack H. FarnbauchOctober 3, 2018

A recent New York Times article has reported on a scary trend for the summer: emergency rooms running low on essential, everyday medications. The most common drugs that are no longer available are painkillers like morphine, which is used to ease the pain of injuries like broken bones, and also diltiazem, a heart drug.  With the summer being the most busy and hectic time for emergency rooms, hospitals small and large have been scrambling to come up with alternatives to these drugs, with doctors and nurses dismayed to find that some patients must suffer through pain, or risk unusual reactions to alternative drugs that aren’t the best option. 

A survey in May of emergency doctors by their professional association, the American College of Emergency Physicians, found that 9 of 10 said they didn’t have access to critical medicines, and nearly 4 in 10 said that patients had been negatively affected. This summer shortage is not a new phenomenon for this summer however, and for years, drug shortages have created a behind-the-scenes scramble as pharmacists, doctors and nurses cobble together fixes that are often unfavorable to patients. But doctors around the country say the latest shortages are more directly troubling than previously thought. 

The article does not provide any simple fixes for this issue or alleviate any fears that these shortages are likely to go away. Like so much in health care, the roots of the drug shortages are complex and seemingly without a simple fix. The vast majority of the products in question are sterile injectable drugs, hospital workhorses that are cheaply priced even though they can be difficult to make. These low margins have led some companies to stop making the drugs,  while others have failed to invest in older facilities, leading to a host of quality problems, recalls and plant shutdowns. The shortages can also be attributed to the recent Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a major manufacturing hub of pharmaceuticals and the hurricane directly lead to a shortage of small saline bags that are a mainstay in hospitals and worsening a common problem with keeping intravenous fluids in stock.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice in an emergency room, please contact the Sweeney Law Firm as soon as possible. You can read more on these emergency room shortages here.