Rampant Drug Shortage Prompts Reevaluation of Inventory Management

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An ambulance responds to a 911 call for a victim experiencing heart attack symptoms, but EMS workers find themselves resorting to expired epinephrine and pain medications in order to treat the patient. Doesn’t sound like something we’d have to deal with in the United States, right? Unfortunately, it’s been an increasingly common circumstance as drug shortages become more prevalent across the country due to lackluster inventory management, manufacturing delays and changes within the pharmaceutical industry.

Paramedics in Bend, Oregon are currently responding to the shortage by stocking ambulances with expired supplies, even though many medicines are not guaranteed to work as described past the expiration date. However, when faced with using drugs that have surpassed their shelf life versus using nothing at all, the answer seems fairly obvious. “We’ve never had to go diving back into the bin to try to retrieve expired boxes of drugs,” said Tom Wright, emergency medical services coordinator for the Bend Fire Department. “We had the backing of our insurance company that giving expired drugs is better than giving no drugs at all.” Thus far, no adverse reactions have been reported, but there is concern over the possibility, especially as EMTs run low on more varieties of drugs that are typically used on emergency calls.

Currently, the University of Utah is reporting shortages for more than 275 medications, which has prompted the FDA to respond by fast-tracking more drug approvals and exploring other means of lessening the shortage. In the meantime, states such as Oregon have agreed not to fine ambulances for stocking expired drugs. For those who have yet to run out, improved inventory control procedures are serving as a bulwark against empty shelves. Inventory management software and asset management systems are the trending solutions for many medical facilities dealing with shortages, hoarding, and poor tracking of equipment and medications.

With the drug shortage looking to worsen before it improves, now is certainly not the time to ignore poor inventory control. Lives depend on these medications being available, making the ability to carefully track stock amounts and locations (as well as drug alternatives) invaluable to healthcare and emergency facilities. With magnesium sulfate now worth its weight in gold, an automated system to keep tabs on stock and shortages might be just what the doctor ordered.

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