Critical Drug Shortage Affects EMS and Public Health

Source: Emergency Management and Response – Information and Analysis Center

A nation-wide drug shortage is affecting the ability of EMS to provide care during critical medical incidents. The shortage that began in 2010 has been getting progressively worse, and EMS departments have to either find work-around options, substitutions, or go without. Examples cited in an EMS World article include some pain medications, anesthetics, pediatric Epipens, and anti-seizure drugs. A news video from Phoenix, AZ, shows the effects of the shortage on a municipal department and hospital.

To compound the issue, sometimes the workaround solution is to stock different concentrations of a commonly used drug. This can lead to accidentally overdosing a patient in the repetitive setting of emergency medicine when a medic is used to having a specific concentration of a drug on hand.

The Food and Drug Administration and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists maintain pages about drug shortages including detailed lists of drug shortages, email or RSS feed notification updates, and frequently asked questions. An article in JEMS Magazine offers these suggestions:

  • Monitor usage of medications and adjust “par levels” across your agency’s drug boxes.
  • Use the medications that are set to expire soonest.
  • See if it is possible to extend the expiration date of medications, which may require consultation between the medical director and state agencies or drug manufacturers.
  • Your agency’s medical director can explore the possibility of using a compounding pharmacy accredited by the Pharmacy Compounding Accreditation Board (PCAB).