Prescription drug shortages hit Colorado Springs. Affected patients, pharmacies, hospitals and doctors

Colorado resident Tara Roesener wasn’t aware of the widespread prescription drug shortage until about two weeks ago, when she tried to fill her 16-year-old daughters prescription for a pump for her type 1 diabetes.

They were out, and it took about a week to get the full prescription, Roesener said.

Meanwhile, her teenage daughter used some pens she had at home to dispense the insulin that is vital to maintaining good health.

It was disruptive, and I didn’t even realize that the delay was an ongoing thing and not an isolated incident, Roesener said.

The development is troubling and troubling, he said, echoing the thoughts of many across the country who face similar or worse situations that include long waits, drug substitutions or going without them.

It’s a lot of different things and it’s frustrating for everyone, said registered pharmacist Barry Patterson, owner of The Medicine Shoppe in Colorado Springs’ Bon Mall. There are tons of shortages since COVID and even before.

The number of prescription drugs in short supply hit an all-time high of 323 drugs in the first quarter of this year, according to data from the American Society of Health System Pharmacists.

Delayed medicines include some to treat cancer and chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma.

But the problem started before the pandemic and may not be fixed soon, say industry leaders in Colorado Springs.

It’s like an onion, you can peel back the layers and see what happens, and it’s disgusting, said registered pharmacist Shannon Bethel.

She and her husband, Scott, own Ivywild Pharmacy in Colorado Springs, which recently moved from its 100-year-old store in the downtown Ivywild neighborhood at 311 S. Nevada Ave.

During COVID, supply chain slowdowns for everything from groceries to construction materials to medical supplies affected pharmaceuticals in general; now specific categories of drugs have been affected by unrelated problems.

For example, a massive UnitedHealth cybersecurity attack in February led to six weeks of not being able to bill properly, which put pressure on companies, Bethel said.

Along with other factors, it is increasingly common for patients to wait weeks or months to fill prescriptions, which can negatively affect drug therapy, compromise or delay medical procedures and lead to medication errors, according to the website of the American Society of Health System Pharmacists. .

When feasible, patients are advised to switch to similar drugs in stock, pharmacists say, but this is not always possible. People may also call different pharmacies to fill prescriptions, Bethel said, but many times they use the same providers.

Also, families should be aware that adult medications are often not recommended as substitutes for pediatric medications, said Sarah Davis Bonar, spokeswoman for Children’s Hospital Colorado.

With the Jan. 1 discontinuation of the Flovent asthma inhaler, doctors have noticed an increase in families struggling to keep their children’s asthma symptoms under control, he said.

Parents should work closely with primary care providers to find appropriate alternatives and dosages and dosages that are right for children, said Casey Dugan, vice president of pharmacy at Childrens Hospital Colorado, which supplies 16 locations, including a full-service hospital. in Colorado Springs.

Children’s Hospital is monitoring 29 pharmaceutical products that are within a 90- to 30-day supply range and works daily to monitor inventory to ensure pediatric patients get what they need, Dugan said.

Generic drugs for pain control, sedation and anxiety, as well as electrolytes, other supplements and a few antiviral antibiotics are on the system’s current watch list, he said.

We have daily teams to monitor supply chain disruptions, review back orders, find wholesalers who have products in stock the amount of effort the organization has to put in on a daily and weekly basis just to manage these items was not the case 10 years ago years, Dugan said. .

Ivywild Pharmacy’s Bethel blames insurance companies for part of the broken image.

They get kickbacks, or rebates, from Medicare and Medicaid, and we have to give brand-name drugs when cheaper generics are available, he said.

That’s straining both generic drugmakers who may not offer kickbacks and mom-and-pop pharmacies, Bethel said, some of which are going under as a result.

We have to pay (invoices) in 12 days, but the insurance companies are dragging their feet to pay, he said.

The shortage of generic Adderall was born during the pandemic when more people were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Bethel said.

But not enough pills were produced to meet the unexpected surge in demand, which has continued, Bethel said.

Production is dictated by federal drug enforcement and the Food and Drug Administrations, which Bethel said can be a problem because they won’t pass, and that’s what happened with generic Adderall.

Opioid pain relievers are also less readily available now that the US Drug Enforcement Administration has tightened regulations due to the overuse or illicit use of narcotics leading to an increase in accidental overdoses across the country, Patterson said.

You can only fill so many, and companies only make so many, which is driving people who are in pain on the street from illegal drugs, and then getting fakes laced with fentanyl that can be deadly , Bethel said.

A recent surge in the popularity of some diabetes medications that also help with weight loss, such as Ozempic, has created a shortage for this group of drugs, Patterson said.

However, availability is expected to improve, Bethel said, as another option comes to market.

In November, the FDA approved Eli Lillys two new brands, Mounjaro for diabetes and another, Zepbound, with the same main ingredient but specified for weight loss.

You have people who need these drugs for diabetes, Bethel said, and you have stars promoting the same drug for weight loss.

Another popular drug that has been in short supply is albuterol, a liquid rescue inhaler for asthma patients. Bethel said insurance companies wouldn’t cover it because of a lack of discounts.

The product also saw recalls by some manufacturers in 2020 and 2023, and one major manufacturer shut down production at three factories 14 months ago, further reducing supplies.

Bethel attributes the discontinuation of the ProAir HFA Inhaler, an albuterol product, to the manufacturer not making enough money from it.

It’s crazy, Bethel said. I know everyone wants their medicine for free, but you can’t make it for free and you can’t dispense it for free. And they are expensive.

Profit margins are tight in the health care industry, Dugan said.

There are legislative proposals to help solve some of the problems and a plan by the Biden administration to increase domestic production, as US drugmakers rely on foreign suppliers for pharmaceutical ingredients.

National advocacy groups have also been working on reliable manufacturing at the national level, better transparency when there is a disruption, costs for hospitals and others to manage drug shortages, effective incentives for manufacturers and suppliers of medical care to prevent drugs from expiring and leaving a cash inventory. on the shelves, Dugan said.

The result, he said, is that the situation affects the ability of providers to provide efficient long-term care and also increases the overall cost of care because of the amount of effort required to do so, and prices go up. due to supply and demand. .

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