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Pharmacists Warn of Drug Shortages for Patients Needing a Ventilator

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists are warning there is an impending shortage of drugs needed to safely have patients on ventilators.
Since the earliest COVID-19 cases in the United States, hospitals have struggled to secure ventilators for acutely ill patients. Now, pharmacists are warning there is an impending shortage of drugs needed to safely have patients on ventilators. According to American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) CEO Paul Abramowitz in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, “ventilators will be rendered useless without an adequate supply” of opioids, sedatives, and paralytics.

On April 1, ASHP called for an immediate increase in the manufacturing of these medications. Because ventilators and breathing tubes are unnatural for the human body, these drugs are necessary to prevent rejection or dislodging of the device. Specifically, these medications include: fentanyl, morphine, hydromorphone, propofol, pancuronium, rocuronium and succinylcholine.

With the demand for opioids, sedatives, and paralytics surging 73% in March, a severe drug shortage is on the horizon. The increased demand can be partially attributed to the lengthened period of time COVID-19 patients spend on ventilators. Steps have been taken by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) to increase production of some of these medications, yet if demand continues to outpace supply, states may need to access to the SNS (Strategic National Stockpile) for necessary medications.

Iowa Pharmacy Association's Executive Vice President & CEO, Kate Gainer, stated, “With the increased use of these medications during the COVID-19 crisis, demand is quickly exceeding supply. Pharmacists in hospitals across the state are closely monitoring the supply of these medications and working with the full healthcare team to ensure patients can be safely ventilated when necessary.”

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