Paramedics Sound Alarm on Drug Shortage

Medstar is days away from running out of key medicine

By Scott Gordon
|  Monday, Feb 20, 2012  |  Updated 10:26 PM CDT
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Paramedics are quickly running out of popular drugs used to treat some of the most common injuries, the Fort Worth ambulance service Medstar warned on Monday.

Scott Gordon, NBC 5 News

Paramedics are quickly running out of popular drugs used to treat some of the most common injuries, the Fort Worth ambulance service Medstar warned on Monday.

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Paramedics are quickly running out of popular drugs used to treat some of the most common injuries, the Fort Worth ambulance service Medstar warned on Monday.

“I have never seen anything like this,” said Medstar medical director Dr. Jeff Beeson. “I would call it a crisis. It started with a few medications and now it’s hundreds of medications.”

The medicines are in short supply nationwide because drug companies are no longer selling them, he said.

The list includes many of the drugs doctors and paramedics use every day.

Medstar now has only about a two-day supply of Midazolam -- or Versed -- a sedative used to treat seizures, and a two-week supply of Morphine and Fentanyl, which are used to treat pain, Beeson said.

Other drugs in short supply include the allergy medicines Benadryl and Epinephrine; Zofran, which controls nausea and vomiting; Valium, used to treat acute seizures; and Mannitol, which helps control pressure in head-injury victims.

Medstar says local pharmacists can fill the gap by compounding some medicines but they have a much shorter shelf life.

Paramedics will also consider using drugs past their expiration date. “At this point, we don't have any other options,” Beeson said.

The cause of the problem isn't clear.

Some drug companies have apparently stopped making the medicines – mostly generics with low profit-margins -- in a dispute over new federal regulations.

The Justice Department launched an investigation several weeks ago into whether some companies are creating artificial shortages and simply price gouging.

Dr. Paul Pepe, emergency medical director in Dallas, said the drug shortage is an issue across the country.

“Yes, this is a concern, not only in the hospitals, but in EMS systems alike,” he said. “We want to make sure paramedics always have the life-saving medications they need.”

Emergency medical directors from the nation’s 50 largest cities will address the problem in a meeting in Dallas later this week, he said.

But so far, there's no solution, and nobody knows what will happen when the drugs run out.

"We're not sure what the root cause is,” Beeson said. “We're just all feeling the effects of the problem."

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