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Sanford Health Manages Drug Shortage

June 13, 2011, 6:10 PM by Kelli Grant

Sanford Health Manages Drug Shortage
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Hospital pharmacies across the country are scrambling to find hundreds of prescription drugs that are nearly impossible to find. And it is affecting hospitals in South Dakota.

Sanford Health is becoming very creative when it comes to buying and holding onto drugs their patients need.

Sanford Hospital's pharmacy inventory coordinator, Sue Nygaard, says it's a daily struggle to keep an eye on which drugs are available and which ones aren't.

“We've dealt with drug shortages always. But the last year and a half, the problem has really escalated to the point where last year there were 211 new drugs shortages reported and this year there's already over a hundred,” Nygaard said.

The drugs range from morphine to the anesthetic propofol to certain chemotherapies.

“The problem is for injectable medications, the process for manufacturing those is complicated and it takes several months from start to finish. So when there is an interruption in the process it takes a long time to recover,” Nygaard said.

The big question is why the shortage?

“Oh, there's so many reasons. It's the perfect storm,” Nygaard said.

One of those reasons is a raw materials shortage.

“80 percent of our raw materials comes from overseas and last fall, a raw materials plant burned to the ground and that was a plant that supplied raw materials to make the drug, which is a diuretic,” Nygaard said.

The shortages are almost exclusive to generic drugs.

“One of the reasons for that is sometimes a manufacturer will make a financial decision to not produce a product. And interestingly enough they do not need to report that to the FDA. There's no law against requiring them to do that,” Nygaard said. 

That leaves an opening other manufacturers must fill.

You may be asking, why not just use a brand name? Well, often times a generic drug's been around for so long, the brand name drug no longer exists.

“If you're going to serve your patients, you have to get the drugs that you need,” Nygaard said.

So Nygaard has become very good at stockpiling and purchasing more than may be needed. But Sanford's pharmacy is also sharing.

“I had a phone call a couple of weeks ago from a hospital in Sioux City asking me for a drug that was almost impossible to get. It was the patient's last treatment. I had to make the decision, do I give it to them or do I keep it for me, for us. And I sent it to them,” Nygaard said.

Luckily, she was able to get more knowing it wasn't the last time she'd have to make that kind of decision.

Nygaard says patient care has never been compromised at Sanford because of the drug shortage. But she says some drug therapies have had to change with patient and physician approval.

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