MEMSA: Nationwide Drug Shortage Hits Emergency Medical Services Hardest

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Health care providers in the United States face an unprecedented major shortage of certain critical medications commonly used for the treatment of numerous diseases and conditions, including those for emergency medical use by EMS personnel.

Nationwide, drugs used for acute cardiac care such as Sodium Bicarbonate, analgesics like morphine, and other common drugs like Epinephrin, Heparin, Dopamine, Fentanyl, Lidocaine, Magnesium Sulfate, and many others are on back order or are not available to health care providers, as manufacturers of the generic drugs face cost and production interferences or are stopping production altogether, cites a recent CBS article:

The Missouri EMS Association, MEMSA, wishes to highlight the fact that, on the national level, EMS providers have the most difficulty in obtaining the needed drugs in the present shortage because unlike most hospitals, pre-hospital emergency health care providers are generally smaller entities without significant buying power.

For example, emergency patients requiring rapid sequence intubation, which provides an emergency airway, require the anesthesia known as Etomidate, an expensive drug not currently available. Paramedics and EMTs also do not have access to other life-saving medications needed to treat patients. Some agencies recently reported as little as a two-day supply of Midazolam or Versed, a sedative used to treat seizures.

“This is a real drug shortage issue, where critical life and health needs cannot be met,” said Dr. Joseph Salomone, an EMS medical director and representative of the Missouri EMS Association. “EMS provides time critical medical attention in emergency situations. Even where there may be an option to temporarily replace one drug for another, the change creates a lot of interference in the preparation and administration of medications such as dosage and concentration changes, packaging changes, which means new points for error – so this is also a patient safety issue.”

The off patent generic drugs generally yield a narrow profit margin for manufacturers, some of which are forced to stop production due to FDA oversight issues such as inspections which create cost obstacles for producers. Some drug companies have apparently stopped making certain medicines in a dispute over new federal regulations. Other potential causes for the medication shortage may be unanticipated increases in demand or shortages of raw materials.

The number of drug shortages in the United States nearly tripled between 2005 and 2010 and are becoming more severe and more frequent.

In order to to clarify the scope of the problem and share ways that EMS systems are coping with the drug shortages, the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, NAEMT, will participate in a meeting on April 16 in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services that will bring together representatives from federal agencies and national EMS organizations. NAEMT is also offering EMS practitioners a survey to capture drug shortage data at

About MEMSA: The Missouri EMS Association is a statewide nonprofit EMS association dedicated to supporting EMS professionals, members and agencies at the legislative, educational, membership and communications levels. Ensuring that EMS professionals receive quality pre-hospital support and education in the state of Missouri, assures quality pre-hospital care for the public.

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Contact: Jessica Anderson – Phone: 573-761-9911 – Email: memsa(at)memsa(dot)org
MEMSA – 425 E. High Street – Jefferson City, Missouri 65101

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