How Grand Strand hospitals are handling the nationwide drug shortages

Nationwide Hospital Drug Shortages

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Hospitals across the country are constantly dealing with a shortage of life-saving drugs.

For some of those emergency rooms, the lack of supplies are impacting a doctor’s ability to perform life-saving surgeries.

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reporting over 100 life-saving drugs are in short supply, which is causing major challenges for some hospitals. According to a recent report by the Food and Drug Administration, the shortages are increasing and lasting longer. It’s also having an impact on hospitals here in the Grand Strand.

Drug shortages have been an ongoing issue over the last decade, however Conway Medical Center's Pharmacy Director, Robert Gajewski, says the drugs vary and the time of shortage could be weeks or months.

As to what’s behind these shortages, medical experts said many involve older drugs that cost less, leaving little financial incentive for manufacturers to continue to produce them.

Once drug makers exit the market, one or two companies may be the only ones left to supply the drugs.

Another major reason is two-thirds of key drug ingredients are manufactured overseas. Other reasons include a lack of raw ingredients, natural disasters like hurricanes, and inspection issues at manufacturing facilities. There’s also the ability to keep up with demand.

Area hospitals like Conway Medical Center and Grand Strand Medical Center are feeling the impacts.

“Continued focus and surveillance is the most effective solution to deal with these drug shortages. Establishing protocols and guidelines to monitor appropriate use and to establish rationing rules, if necessary, is also recommended. Grand Strand Medical Center proactively plans for a worst-case scenario, but we remain vigilant and hopeful that will not happen in the future,” said Connie Williams, director of pharmacy services at Grand Strand Health.

At Conway Medical Center, pharmacy director Robert Gajewski said critical life-saving drugs typically used when a patient is in cardiac arrest - epinephrine, sodium bicarbonate, dextrose and many pre-prepared syringes - have all been in short supply for several months now. That’s why communication is critical between doctors, pharmacists and nurses to work together to address these shortages.

“Close collaboration allows us to mitigate the impact and continue to treat patients. Oftentimes, patients are unaware of any shortages as there are multiple options for treating various conditions. A substitution with an alternate drug is never made unless it is medically recognized as an acceptable option,” said Williams.

Officials with Conway Medical Center and Grand Strand Health said, fortunately, patient treatments or therapy have not been canceled or delayed so far due to the shortage. They’re hopeful staff can continue to seek out alternative therapies in order to avoid interrupting the patient’s plan of care.

“Fortunately for us, we have not had to cancel any patient treatments or any therapy so far. So we're hopeful that we're going to be able to continue to do that by seeking out alternative therapies, we don't have to interrupt the patient's plan of care. Moving forward, I guess we just try to manage those shortages as best we can, try to anticipate them as best we can, so that we can find alternative therapies whenever we can.”

Area hospitals have staff in constant communication around the clock to prepare for running short of critical drugs.

“Pharmacy and therapeutics committees, they oversee everything we do in the pharmacy, so we meet with them once a month and the first line on our agenda every month is talking about critical shortages, current shortages and how we’re handling those. If we have a really critical shortage like we did two years ago with saline, we put together a special committee to help us address that on a day-to-day basis so that we can manage the problem effectively,” said Gajewski.

“Grand Strand Health has had to use alternate products for some emergency medication syringes and antibiotics. Our multi-disciplinary teams communicate in a number of ways to ensure all stakeholders are aware of any potential shortages before they occur via direct communication, email, hospital intranet and regular committee meetings,” said Williams.

If you have any concerns on whether or not an alternative product is appropriate, Gajewski said patients should contact their doctor or pharmacist.

In its recent report, the FDA recommends long-lasting solutions to address these drug shortages. To learn more about those solutions, click here.

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