Hospitals nationwide grappling with pain med shortage: 6 things to know

Hospitals and other healthcare providers nationwide are facing a major shortage of injectable opioid painkillers used to treat intense pain, trauma and patients undergoing major surgeries, reports STAT.

Here are six things to know about the shortage.

1. The shortage first sprouted up last summer, but has grown significantly worse in recent weeks.

2. Pfizer — which accounts for 60 percent of the U.S.'s injectable opioid market — notified customers it halted production of several pain medications due to manufacturing issues with a supplier. These manufacturing issues have left hospitals, hospice providers and other healthcare entities scrambling to replenish supplies of common painkillers used to treat a plethora of patients.

3. Many providers are initiating policies to conserve injectable opioids and installing safeguards to prevent dosing errors that can occur during changes to normal drug regimens, according to STAT.

4. Despite these safety efforts, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices cited numerous instances in which opioid shortages have led to treatment delays and potentially harmful dosing errors. In one instance, a patient received five times the normal amount of morphine after the healthcare facility ran out of smaller-dose vials, according to CNN.

5. Scott Knoer, PharmD, Cleveland Clinic's chief of pharmacy, said the health system is closely monitoring inventory and turning to alternative pain treatments whenever possible.

"This month it's opiates," he told STAT. "It's going to be something else next month. This revolving door means something is always going to be short. You're never over it."

6. Pfizer does not expect to return to full manufacturing capacity until the first quarter of 2019.

"We recognize the importance of these medicines to patients and physicians and are committed to resolving these shortages as quickly as possible," company spokesman Steven Danehy told STAT. "To that end, we are exploring the feasibility of increasing capacity within the global Pfizer manufacturing network and potential third party suppliers."

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