Hospitals continue struggles with drug shortages

Saline shortage eases, though generics & opioids hard to find
UNIVERSITY CITY (WPVI) -- The shortage of intravenous saline bags has eased a bit.

The F-D-A is now allowing shipments from Europe and Australia, as facilities in Puerto Rico continue to re-build.

However, drug shortages continue to plague area hospitals and surgical centers, and those shortfalls are causing staffers to adjust their care.

Now hospitals are seeing a different shortage - of commonly used medication.

This is used for nausea and vomiting, either after surgery or chemotherapy.

Danielle Auxer says the juggling almost everyday continues in the pharmacy at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Some of the most frequently used medications, like Dilaudid or morphine - both for pain relief after surgery - are in the shortest supply.

But so are generic injectable drugs of all types.

And thought epinephrine injector pens for severe allergic reactions aren't used in the in-patient pharmacy, they are hard to get for the out-patient offices.

Auxer, the pharmacy's associate director, says it's creating a lot of extra work.

"We have purchasers that look all over the country for the products for us, and then we have a group of pharmacists and technicians that talk about what are we going to do? How are we going to provide the product for the patients? What alternatives can we use?" she says.

There is an ongoing conversation between pharmacists, doctors, and nurses throughout the Penn Medicine system.

"So one hospital might have enough on hand for a few weeks, the other might only have a couple days' worth. So a lot of times, we're having to do different things at different hospitals,"

Many shortages are due to production problems and cutbacks.

Local hospital pharmacists have been working with their professional organizations, lobbying agencies and lawmakers for help.

A University of Utah report says the pace of new shortages has slowed slightly, however, long-term shortages aren't getting better.

In January, a group of 450 hospitals was so sick and tired of dealing with generic drug shortages and unpredictable prices, they decided to create their own nonprofit generic drugmaker.

The group includes 5 large health systems: Intermountain Healthcare, Ascension, SSM Health, Trinity Health and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Organizers say the new company will directly manufacture or contract out its production, with the goal of putting patients first.

The group's advisory committee includes two retired Amgen executives, a former Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator, a Harvard Business School professor, and former Nebraska governor, senator and pharmacist Bob Kerrey.

Drug companies have come under fire in recent years for their prices, including those of generics, which were intended to be more affordable for patients and hospitals.

Want to know keep up with drug shortages? Check the website of the American Society of Health System Pharmacists.
Copyright © 2019 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.