NewsTreasure CoastRegion Indian River County


Nationwide medication shortage impacting local firefighters

Posted at 10:55 PM, May 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-16 04:14:39-04

A medication shortage sweeping the country continues to hit home in South Florida and the Treasure Coast.

Firefighters across the country are experiencing a shortage in dozens of drugs they use to save lives.

Indian River County Asst. Fire Chief Cory Richter said about one-third of the drugs they use during emergency calls countywide are on back order.

“On any given day, there’s anywhere from 60 to 80 medications that are on back order,” Richter said.

Not all of the drugs have alternatives, and in other parts of the country, Richter said using an alternative drug has opened up a door for error.

Richter is in charge of checking supplies daily, as he battles to get a full stock from suppliers.

“They’re going to ration it because everybody’s looking for it,” Richter said. "So, you may not get enough to even outfit the whole county if I’m out county-wide,” Richter said.

Some of the medications on back order include medicines used to treat seizures, sugar for diabetics, blood pressure medications, Fentanyl, and a big one: lower concentrations of Epinephrine.

“That’s the first-line drug in cardiac arrest,” Richter explained.

Richter said they are able to stock a more condensed dose of Epinephrine, but it takes more time for fire fighters to administer the drug.

Their preferred form of Epinephrine typically comes in a pre-made injectable shot, with the needed dosage.

Now, he says firefighters have to “mix up” the drug themselves in the field, diluting the more concentrated form, which can add at least a mute to the time it takes to administer the drug.

“It’s a drug that we need to give quickly. It’s a drug that we need to give during a certain time in a cardiac arrest in order to have the best outcome,” Richter said.

Some drugs on back order do have alternatives, but they’re not necessarily as effective.

Richter explained some alternatives also come in different packaging than what firefighters are trained to look for quickly, to act as fast as possible.

In other parts of the country, this has led to errors being made.

“People are having those problems where medics are giving the wrong drug, or the wrong dose because they’re not used to that particular drug coming in that quantity or in that container.”

That has not happened locally.

Richter points to FDA production restrictions and an active hurricane season last year as contributors to the shortages.