Hospitals Face Shortage of Pain Meds

Facing a shortage of injectable opioids, U.S. hospitals and other health-care providers are struggling to manage supplies. According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, some hospice providers in Florida, Maryland, and Hawaii have already run out of opioid products.

Charles Morris, MD, associate chief medical officer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told STAT News, “Any shortage of these medicines has the potential to impact the ability to provide adequate pain management to patients admitted with painful conditions or patients undergoing surgeries.”

The shortage was triggered when Pfizer, which controls about 60 percent of the U.S. market for injectable opioids, halted production due to technical issues experienced by a third-party supplier of pre-filled syringes.

Michael Cotugno, RPh, director of pharmacy services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, noted that hospital drug shortages like this stem from weaknesses in the manufacturing process. “The production margins are so thin that we’re vulnerable to a natural disaster, technology [problems], or a manmade disruption.” he said. “… One company undergoes modernization of their plants, and the whole system is in disarray.” Increasing competition and adding more redundancies to manufacturing processes are some of the solutions for this recurring problem.

Although the shortage is not directly caused by the ongoing opioid crisis, it is compounded by the legal controls put in place in an effort to mitigate the epidemic. Legislation that will allow the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to adjust production quotas for controlled substances more easily is making its way through Congress. Even if the legislation passes soon, it is unclear how quickly the DEA will respond to the current shortage.

Source: STAT News, March 15, 2018.