Recent news stories describe the severe shortage of medications used in emergency situations. As an emergency physician in Tennessee, I am seeing this first-hand. Worse, there’s no end to this problem coming any time soon.
Nine in 10 emergency physicians responding to a recent poll by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) have experienced shortages or absences of critical medicines in their emergency departments within the past month. The same number report taking time away from patient care to find alternative treatments. Seventy percent say that drug shortages “have increased a lot” in the past year. The medications in short supply or unavailable include basic, critical, every day medications such as adrenaline, morphine and several other pain medicines, dextrose (sugar solution for diabetic crises), medications for nausea and vomiting, some intravenous medicines to control heart rates and blood pressure, antidotes for some poisonings, local anesthetics (numbing medicines for stitches), saline solution, and believe it or not, even sterile water. Not only do these shortages affect emergency departments, emergency medical service agencies have experienced the same drug shortages. It’s hard to believe but true.
Congress must recognize that drug shortages are a substantial threat to our nation’s readiness ability to address every-day emergencies. Congress must take steps now to help ease the problem. ACEP is asking Congress to establish a national task force to address the drug shortage issues and to make sure there is a strong focus on the medical aspects of preparedness in legislation being drafted right now — the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2018 [PAHPAI].
Nobody plans for an emergency medical problem. Should that emergency arise, you, your family, and your emergency physician want all of the necessary emergency medications readily available, and rightly so. Please contact your Congressman and Sen. Bob Corker to help assure consistent access to basic, lifesaving medications for when an emergency arises. Sen. Lamar Alexander co-sponsors this bill.
Dr. Sullivan Smith
President, Tennessee Chapter, American College of Emergency Physicians