NEWS
December 7, 2017

U.S. Hospitals Struggle With Saline Shortage - It Could Get Worse.

By Mariam Yazdi

If you've experienced a delay of certain medications, your facility could be affected by the residual damages caused by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.  

Hospitals and pharmacies around the country are experiencing a normal saline shortage, the FDA reports. Many major healthcare supply companies are located in Puerto Rico, and some - like Baxter - had long-lasting electrical outages, which has caused a slowdown in medication production and thus a buildup of demand. 

In early October, FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb released a statement where he addresses the significance of the power outages; although some companies were able to continue work under generator power, many were not. Many companies continue to deal with challenges in re-establishing access to the main electrical grid.

The manufacturing of medication and other medical equipment are a large component of Puerto Rico’s economy, with the United States being one of its main consumers. Dr. Gottlieb explains: 

…The pharmaceutical and biological drug products and medical devices produced on the island account for about 30 percent of Puerto Rico’s gross domestic product. Moreover, about 80 percent of the drug products manufactured on the island are consumed by U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and across all fifty states. Securing this manufacturing base is vital to maintaining access to many important medical products.

According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the pharmaceutical products manufactured in Puerto Rico make up nearly 10 percent of all drugs consumed by Americans. And that doesn’t even account for medical devices. Puerto Rico is vital to the health and well-being of all Americans.

The medication that has been most affected are the “mini bags” of NS and dextrose that nurses use to reconstitute antibiotics for IV piggyback administration. Also affected are select chemotherapy drugs and the small vials of saline for diluting IV medications. 

Pharmacies affected by the shortage work tirelessly to mitigate the problem, some using backup stores of saline by producing them in the pharmacy – a longer and more tedious process. 

Although progress has been made in re-establishing power across the islands, the medication shortage continues as manufacturing companies are not operating at baseline capacity. Thankfully, the FDA recently granted permission to some of the Puerto Rico-based companies like Baxter, to collaborate with its branches in Australia and Ireland, importing bags of saline and easing the stress of demand.  

To learn more about which medications are in short supply, visit the FDA’s website here

Next Up: Nurse Volunteers Say Puerto Ricans Are Dying- Here’s How Nurses Can Help

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