Drug shortage y2k hoarding?

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Hospitals facing antibiotics shortage 02/03/2000

JOHN GEROME News staff writer

Some Birmingham hospitals are experiencing a shortage of penicillin G and other antibiotics, forcing doctors to find substitute drugs to treat serious infections.

Hospital officials said Wednesday that the shortage poses no threat to patients because the alternative medications work just as well and are plentiful.

"In the vast majority of cases you can find an alternative," said Jackson Como, director of drug information for UAB Hospital. "In fact, there are probably only a handful of situations where one of these agents would be uniquely indicated," and there is a large enough emergency supply to handle those occasions.

The antibiotics in question are penicillin G, gentamicin, meropenem and ticarcillin/ clavulanate. Doctors use them to treat several infections including pneumonia, meningitis, strep throat, gonorrhea and syphilis.

A recent survey by the Infectious Diseases Society of America found that many of its members had experienced a shortage of at least one of the drugs, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. The group represents infectious disease physicians based in hospitals around the country.

Officials at UAB and Children's Hospital said Wednesday that they anticipated the shortage and were able to stock up in advance.

Arthur Mueller, director of pharmacy services at Baptist Medical Center Montclair, said he has had a hard time getting penicillin G for at least six months. Gentamicin also was a problem several months ago, he said, but is now available.

"There is one pharmaceutical company that can get us a supply of penicillin G on an emergency basis, so we can get it when we need it," Mueller said.

Cullen Clark, marketing coordinator of Carraway Methodist Medical Center, said that in many cases, doctors prefer using the alternatives to penicillin G, one of the older antibiotics. The alternatives are newer, he said, and treat a broader range of infections.

Reasons for the shortage are mixed. Some blame manufacturing shutdowns and strict federal regulations. Others point to the pharmaceutical industry's trend toward keeping leaner inventories to save money. Still others suspect drug hoarding by hospital pharmacies in anticipation of Y2K.

"It is shocking to us the rate we are experiencing drug shortages, and not just with antibiotics," Como said. "The crisis will come if there is ever a shortage of the alternatives."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 03, 2000

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