April 3, 2020
Drug shortages, including human, animal, and biological products, have been an ongoing issue for the past several years. Many shortages were a result of market changes and supply challenges. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an acute demand for certain products and a disruption in the supply chain. The FDA is working with manufacturers so that they may have accurate data on drug supplies. The FDA and ASHP maintain a list of drug shortages. As you view each list you may find discrepancies based on how each entity defines and categorizes the shortage. Both lists are an excellent resource when trying to gain information about what medications are currently available and the approximate availability of drugs in shortage.
On the front lines of this pandemic, pharmacists have the opportunity to provide first-line information, testing to suspected COVID-19 patients, education about over-the-counter options for symptoms, and be stewards of good dispensing practices. The temptation for patients to hoard medications and even prescribers to order medications without an indication has already been apparent. As pharmacists, we have the opportunity and responsibility to dispense appropriate amounts of medications to patients with clear indications and needs. Over-dispensing of any one medication for a patient can unintentionally harm several others. The current unapproved medications being touted against this virus serve a select group of patients with serious diseases in which these drugs are their only option.
Pharmacies across the nation have implemented policies to prevent over-prescribing and over-dispensing. States have gotten involved to try to limit or regulate certain medications. As the pandemic unfolds, we encourage members to plan ahead for drug shortages and issues they may encounter while providing patient care.
Members are advised to:
- Stay abreast of drug shortages, supply chain issues, and current therapies being utilized. This can help you anticipate the needs of your patients and limits you may encounter with their care.
- Research options for different dosage forms, delivery methods, or medications for items that are in shortage. (Example: Can your patient use a nebulizer rather than the MDI version that is currently in shortage?)
- Keep providers up to date on supply issues so they can be involved and ready to make therapeutic substitutions for patients.
- Communicate with patients and their family members so they understand limitations on prescriptions, changes to therapy, or changes to dosing that may occur due to differences in strength or actual medication. Patients may also need information about the new ways they interact remotely or through drive-thru windows with pharmacy staff.
Unfortunately, we are unable to predict how long this pandemic and resulting fallout will last. Please remember if you cannot provide the needed medication to your patient, do not leave them without treatment. It is imperative that you find a pharmacy with the needed medication or contact the provider for a therapeutic substitution or further evaluation of the patient. Pharmacists are well-positioned to assist patients in navigating the healthcare landscape during this difficult time.
To learn more about COVID-19 and what you can do to protect yourself and your business, visit the Risk Management Center (RMC) and enter “COVID-19” in the search box. The RMC is available at no cost to Pharmacists Mutual commercial insurance customers at www.phmic.com. Click “My Accounts” in the upper right corner to access or enroll.