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Arizona Hospitals Cope With Drug Shortages

(Photo by Alexandra Olgin - KJZZ)

Drugs commonly used in the emergency room and intensive care unit are in short supply. This is causing problems for doctors and pharmacists trying to treat patients in Arizona.  

IV fluids, medicine to treat heart attacks and chemotherapy drugs are just a few of the most recent shortages. Denise Erickson is a Pharmacist at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix.  

 “It really does on some level become rationing,” said Erickson.  “There are many shortages that are kind of ongoing and have been ongoing for many years.”

The American Society of Health Pharmacists says drug shortages have tripled since 2006. And the situation with cancer medicines is even worse. That group’s studyreported 43 percent of hospitals with cancer patients had delays in treatment because of supply problems.

Ali McBride is a pharmacist at University of Arizona’s Cancer Center. He deals with those cancer drugs.

“With chemotherapy we are often limited in the actual amount of alternatives available. If we try to actually switch a therapy and there is no data on that. So we don’t know what the after effects are going to be,” said McBride.  

One reason for these shortages is that fewer companies are manufacturing each drug. McBride compares the situation to the commercial market for soda.  

“Well after a while what if you are only down to Pepsi and Coke, and if one of those manufacturers like Coke leaves the way, then Pepsi is going to be the only product available. Is there enough supply by Pepsi,” said McBride.  

McBride said with fewer manufacturers, any increase in demand or interruption in production is a dangerous mix. The American Society of Health Pharmacists supports an alert systemthat would require manufacturers to notify the FDAseveral months before they stop making a drug.

Alexandra Olgin was a Senior Field Correspondent at KJZZ from 2013 to 2016.