Many of us have probably popped a pill or two that we knew had passed its expiration date. But when you get medical care from professionals, there is usually the expectation that you’re getting the freshest stuff available. But a conspiracy of conditions has led to some emergency responders stocking their ambulances with out-of-date drugs.
“We’ve never (before) had to go diving back into the bin to try to retrieve expired boxes of drugs,” a rep for the fire department in Bend, Oregon, explains to the Associated Press. “We had the backing of our insurance company that giving expired drugs is better than giving no drugs at all.”
Some paramedics in Bend have been using expired drugs for about a year, reports the AP.
The rep says that, even though there’s a chance that expired meds might not work as well as drugs fresh from the manufacturer, no adverse reactions have been reported.
Health officials in Oregon recently voted to allow the carrying of expired drugs in ambulances. Arizona regulators have agreed to not fine first responders for running out of the drugs they are required to stock.
The AP cites a report from the University of Utah’s Drug Information Service that claims 275 medications are currently in short supply.
Paramedics say they have been hit particularly hard by shortages on Valium, dextrose 50 (for treating diabetics) magnesium sulfate (for eclampsia), as well as good ol’ painkillers and sedatives.
The supply of fresh epinephrine, used to treat heart attack patients and those with severe allergic reactions, is in danger of becoming low, say first responders.
So what’s behind the shortages?
From the AP:
Manufacturing quality lapses, production shutdowns for contamination and other serious problems are behind many of the shortages, according to manufacturers and the FDA. Other reasons include increased demand for some drugs, companies ending production of some drugs with small profit margins, consolidation in the generic drug industry and limited supplies of some ingredients.
Manufacturers say it could be a while before the supply of these drugs is back up to acceptable levels.
In addition to expired drugs, some healthcare providers are using alternative drugs that may have additional side effects or cost more than the standard drugs. There is also the option of diluting some meds to stretch the supply out.
“It has such significant risk of patient harm or provider error that it’s worthy of immediate attention,” said the director of the National Association of State EMS Officials.
The FDA allows the use of certain batches of expired drugs if they have been tested and proven to still be safe.
“The FDA is looking into solutions that would assist first responders and hospitals to use expired medications that they may have on hand during a shortage,” said an FDA rep, “if there is data to support the medicine is safe and effective for patients,”
Thanks to Amy for the tip!