Callaway sees pinch of medicine shortage

A shortage of some generic medications has resulted in a few gaps in the shelves at the Red Cross Pharmacy in Fulton. Local medical professionals said this has become a growing problem in the industry.

A shortage of some generic medications has resulted in a few gaps in the shelves at the Red Cross Pharmacy in Fulton. Local medical professionals said this has become a growing problem in the industry. Photo by Katherine Cummins.

Local pharmacies and medical services are feeling the effects of a growing national shortage of certain generic medications.

Medical professionals with the local ambulance district, hospital and pharmacies all said they have had trouble getting a number of medicines, affecting their ability — in varying degrees — to render services.

James Stevermer, a physician with Callaway Physicians and medical director for the Callaway County Ambulance District said back-ordered and out-of-stock medication has been an issue for hospitals and ambulance services for months now.

“There seems to have been more and more problems with this issue, with various medications,” Stevermer said. “You have to scramble to find alternatives.”

He said there are several reasons that are contributing factors to the shortage, “some economic, some safety-related.”

Paul Vossen, pharmacy director for Callaway Community Hospital, explained how he believes this medicine shortage has come about.

“Probably the biggest driver has been a decision made by the Bush administration in 2005. They decided the government was paying too much for generic drugs in general, so they restricted the amount they could charge (for generic drugs) to government programs like Medicare and Medicaid,” Vossen said. “It has had the effect of driving a lot of companies to look at their profit margins ... so five or six companies (producing a generic version of a particular drug) has gone down to two or three.

“You can’t cut all the profit margins out and expect the supply to stay the same.”

When the economy slowed down shortly thereafter, he said many companies also have not been carrying as much of an inventory in order to avoid paying taxes on that inventory, “so when there is a shortage, there is no cushion.”

With no changes having been made to that Bush-era policy, he said it is not likely the situation will improve in the near future.

“Unfortunately, this year will probably be worse than last year, which was a record year,” Vossen said. “This doesn’t seem to be abating any time soon.”

Stevermer said the ambulance district has had to track down alternatives for some of the drugs it regularly uses and “add them into the protocol so the medics can try to keep it in stock.”

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