Drug shortage challenge hits SSM Health, UW Health

From the antibiotic amoxicillin and the numbing drug lidocaine to the flu drug Tamiflu and over-the-counter liquid pain and fever treatments for children, drug shortages are affecting many aspects of health care, including in Madison.

But while the shortages require more work to find alternative drugs, sizes or formulations to use, pharmacists at SSM Health and UW Health say they are minimizing the effect on patients.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure patients aren’t impacted by these drug shortages,” said Michelle Schmitt, director of commercial operations for pharmacy at SSM Health.

“There are dozens of shortages that are changing the way we prescribe drugs to patients,” said Dan Schenkat, director of drug business services at UW Health’s East Madison Hospital. But “hopefully there are very few that actually impact patient care.”

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A list of pharmacists from the American Society of Health System, as of Thursday, included more than 200 drug shortages. The Food and Drug Administration’s list contained 190 entries, some of which have been resolved.

“It certainly looks like there is an increase,” Schenkat said.

Ariel Thurmer, clinical lead of pharmaceutical services at SSM Health, said shortages of amoxicillin and lidocaine were among the biggest challenges locally.

Other antibiotics can be used in place of amoxicillin, but sometimes involve an injection instead of a pill, Thurmer said. Alternatives to lidocaine are also available, but some take longer to work, so visits for biopsies and other procedures that require numbness can take longer.

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For Tamiflu, or oseltamivir, Thurmer said SSM Health has encouraged doctors to reserve a limited supply for high-risk patients who have the flu and don’t use the drugs to help prevent the flu in others, such as a it is sometimes used.

UW Health had an adequate supply of Tamiflu and amoxicillin but faced shortages of lidocaine and other drugs, including some for ulcers and fungal infections, Schenkat said.

He said pediatricians and parents have been struggling to find liquid ibuprofen and liquid acetaminophen, or Tylenol, used primarily for pain and fever relief in children. A falling wave of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, along with influenza and COVID-19, has depleted supply.

Children can sometimes take pill form, or pharmacists can crush a pill, Schenkat said.

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Other recent shortages include Adderall, for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and the diabetes drug Ozempic, which some people without diabetes have used to try to lose weight.

The reasons for the shortcomings vary. Some appear to stem from generic drug makers, which don’t make as much money as brand-name drugs, producing conservative quantities, Schenkat said.

He said patients facing shortages could try health system pharmacies, drug chains and independent pharmacies, as their supply chains may be different.

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