The opioid crisis facing the United States has resulted in a number of unintended consequences, including a dangerous shortage of opioid medications at hospitals across the nation. This is surprising for many because in the developed world, countries with a highly developed health care system (which also costs a lot of money), people are used to treatments and medication being available in abundance. Many prescription drugs are hardly ever used, stored in piles in private homes or never used.
Opioid shortages have as a result, prompted doctors, pharmacies and patient advocacy groups scrambling to get critically important medications where they are needed most – to patients who are facing surgery, or those suffering severe pain from traumatic injuries or cancer.
The shortage of injectable opioids such as Fentanyl, Dilaudid, hydromorphone and morphine was triggered, in part, by the US-based Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision that some manufacturing plants be closed after inspections revealed significant violations.
In addition to manufacturing problems, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), responsible for establishing national quotas for opioid producers, has ordered substantial reductions in 2017, and again in 2018, in an attempt to gain control of the skyrocketing “opioid epidemic”.
As a result, patient comfort, health and safety are compromised when patients receive less effective drugs such as muscle relaxing medication or acetaminophen (Paracetamol), thus rationing the scant supply of painkilling medications for patients with a higher level of pain. In some cases, patients are provided with extremely expensive alternatives.
The shortage of opioid medications is uneven across the US. The supply of in some areas has forced hospitals to postpone elective surgeries such as hernia repair and gallbladder operations.
The opioid shortage has affected not only hospitals, but various healthcare settings such as emergency response providers and ambulatory surgery centers.