Hospitals local, nationwide facing shortage of IV opioids

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(WPDE) — Imagine you’re in a horrible car accident, you have to have surgery, you’re in a lot of pain and there’s no morphine or other opioid painkillers available.

Right now, hospitals nationwide and right here at home are dealing with an opioid shortage.

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According to Pfizer’s “Injectables Availability Report” from March 22, 2018, there are pages and pages that show the status of medications being either “out of stock,” the next delivery being in 2019, or both.

Hospitals are currently facing critical shortages of a number of injectable opioids, including morphine, hydromorphone and fentanyl.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says shortages of injectable opioids are because of manufacturing delays affecting Pfizer, the company that makes them.



Pfizer sent its customers an update in January with some bad news: None of the pre-filled syringes they were needing were being produced or released, forcing hospitals to take alternative routes.

“Our health system is experiencing a shortage of these drugs. The shortage has not affected patient care,” said Connie Williams, director of the pharmacy for Grand Strand Health.

Dr. Paul Richardson, chief medical officer at Conway Medical Center says the same: “Patients are perfectly safe and well taken care of, so that hasn’t changed a bit. We still have the means to do that.”

There’s one product in particular, dwindling away from their inventory. “The shortage that we see is the intravenous Dilaudid. It is the main one. We are still holding on as far as our supplies and our other narcotic IV medications,” said Richardson.

No narcotics? No problem. He says they can still treat patients.

“There are substitutes and the kind of patients that we see frequently are post-op patients or patients with really any kind of pain that may not be able to take medication by mouth for whatever reason,” he said.

Their plan has been to use less narcotics anyway.

“We’re very much in favor of non-opioid pain control and we’re trying to do that as well, so patients have been migrated over to non-narcotic pain medications as well and that works in many, many cases. Some cases, it does not”

Richardson says intravenous Tylenol, Toradol and several others are used in place of narcotics.

Another local health system, Tidelands Health, has also made some changes.

“At Tidelands Health hospitals, we continue to provide the same, high-quality level of care to our patients. Our team has responded to tightened supplies of some medications in a variety of ways, including through more refined inventory management. For example, we’ve more closely aligned the amount of medication stored on some units with historical use. As a result, more of the medication is available in other areas where it tends to be in higher demand,” said Carl Lindquist, marketing and communications specialist with Tidelands Health.

Dr. Richardson says they’re being told by the FDA relief should come soon.

“Supposedly, about a year or so from now, we should see some relief of this, but obviously that’s a year away”

According to the DEA, these medications are also the ones frequently used in intensive care units for surgical, trauma, burn or oncology patients when it is not clinically appropriate to use oral opioids.