Baking soda shortage forces hospitals to postpone surgeries, treatments

Hospitals nationwide are delaying major operations and chemotherapy due to a major shortage of a simple, yet crucial drug — sodium bicarbonate solution, reports The New York Times.

Here are five things to know.

1. Sodium bicarbonate solution — which contains baking soda as a base ingredient — is used for open heart surgery, some forms of chemotherapy and as a treatment when a patient's blood is too acidic. The drug, often stashed on emergency crash carts, also serves as an antidote to some poisons and as a treatment for patients whose organs are failing, according to the report.

2. Only two companies supply sodium bicarbonate: Pfizer and Amphastar. The shortage started in February when Pfizer — the primary supplier — experienced a manufacturing delay due to an outside supplier, according to the report. This issue has since magnified in the past few weeks.

3. Pfizer's shortage caused demand to spike, leading Amphastar to also run low on sodium bicarbonate solution. Now, even alternative versions of the drug are hard to find. The shortage is forcing hospitals to delay elective procedures or make difficult decisions about which patients should receive the drug, reports The New York Times.

4. A few weeks ago, Mobile, Ala.-based Providence Hospital had to postpone seven scheduled open heart surgeries after a heart patient needed 35 of the hospital's remaining 175 sodium bicarbonate vials. While Pfizer sent the hospital an emergency shipment of the drug, Providence Hospital still faces a shortage, according to Gino Agnelly, Providence's head pharmacist.

"Does the immediate need of a patient outweigh the expected need of a patient?" Mr. Agnelly told The New York Times. "It's a medical and ethical question that goes beyond anything I've had to experience before."

5. Pfizer and Amphastar said manufacturing issues will likely not be resolved before June for some forms of sodium bicarbonate, while other formulations of the drug might not be available until August or later, according to the report.

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