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‘Frightening Times’: Hospitals Warn About Shortage Of Medications For Ventilator Patients

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Being on a ventilator is hard on the body and the mind.

“You have a large plastic tube going down into the throat,” says St. Clair Hospital Intensive Care Unit Physician Dr. Gregory Fino. “It should be a very, very uncomfortable situation, where it not for medications we can use to sedate the patient.”

Standard medications for people on ventilators include sedatives, painkillers, anxiety medicines and drugs to reduce muscle activity.

And right now, the demand is greater than the supply.

“It’s certainly a concern for all of us. On a daily basis, I am in contact with our pharmacy department, going over what we have, what we do not have,” says Dr. Fino.

“It’s something that we as pharmacy, as hospital pharmacies, are challenged with on a national perspective. It continues. It was here before COVID, and it is actually going to be a challenge getting some of these products that were on shortage even prior to COVID,” says AHN hospital pharmacist Laura Mark.

Some products come from abroad.

Some are controlled substances, so typically, hospitals can’t simply double their orders.

“The states, and from a national perspective, have been looking at that, and have given some guidance and exceptions during this time, to be able to increase those allocations. So that has been helpful. That has been a relief,” says Mark.

Some drugs are IV or by injection, so they have to be stored for 21 days after manufacturing to make sure they aren’t contaminated by microbes.

“That is a concern for us because they have to test these products,” Mark said. “They can’t just ramp up manufacturing that fast.”

Planning for shortages is part of the strategy right now.

“We have a number of drugs that can relax the muscles, and a number of drugs that can relax the brain, and they all work a little differently,” says Dr. Fino.

“Frightening times, but we are on top of it,” Dr. Fino added.