Good Question: Is there a prescription drug shortage?

October 10, 2017 06:15 AM

If you've had trouble filling certain prescriptions lately, you're not alone.

Pat Taney was asked about a shortage of a heart medication, and his search for an answer uncovered that more prescription problems could be looming.
Rebecca Cadregari of Greece depends on a drug called Atenalol to manage her high blood pressure.

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"I also have a thyroid deficiency so this medication has a combination that works well," Cadregari said.

She called to get a refill. The pharmacist called back.

"She said there was a shortage and she could not fill my prescription."

Thousands of others are getting the same call. So what's behind the Atenolol shortage? We asked Curtis Haas, Director of Pharmacy at URMC for the answer.

"We reached out to a national resource on that and they said they are not really sure, most likely a supply problem from what they call API," Haas said.

 API is a chemical ingredient which is hard to come by.

"Different companies use that to make tablets under different brands and it appears the source of that chemical is unavailable," Haas told us.

Atenalol joins more than 130 other drugs in short supply right now. Many of them have alternatives, others do not.

"If you look at some drugs to treat cancer, it's a real problem because we don't always have a good substitute," Haas said.

Taney: In your opinion, is enough being done to combat the shortages? 

Haas: No.

Taney: What can be done?

Haas: There are things that can be done on a regulatory level that we've been really slow to move on in this country.

The problem may only get worse. The reason?

Hurricane Maria's direct hit in Puerto Rico. 

"Puerto Rico has multiple pharmaceutical manufacturing plants and it's unknown now how long it may take to get those plants online," Haas said.

"Unless it's quick, drug supplies could run low."

A frustrating scenario folks like Rebecca are living now.

"I am just wondering whatever shoe is going to fall before all of this is over," she said.

Rebecca's cardiologist was able to find a pharmacy that had a limited supply of the drug she needed. But what if you can't?

The first call should be to your doctor who can try and find a pharmacy or get you an alternative.
Again, 133 drugs are on the shortage list and the concern is that number could grow soon if things in Puerto Rico don't stabilize.

If you have a question you'd like answered, email Pat:


Pat Taney

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