Drugs Used With Ventilators Now in Short Supply

April 1, 2020

Supplies of drugs needed by patients on ventilators are running low as the demand spikes during the COVID-19 crisis.

In March, according to Vizient — a group purchasing organization that negotiates contracts for medicines on behalf of about 3,000 hospitals and healthcare facilities in the U.S. — there was a 51 percent increase in demand for the sedatives and anesthetics propofol, dexmedetomidine, etomidate, ketamine, lorazepam and midazolam. At the same time, the rate at which prescriptions were getting filled and sent to hospitals decreased from 100 percent at the beginning of March to 63 percent as of March 24.

Likewise, the demand for the analgesics hydromorphone, fentanyl and morphine increased by 67 percent during the first three weeks of March, as the fill rate for those drugs dropped from 82 percent to 73 percent. The drugs are also used for surgeries, but most elective surgeries have been canceled, making the drop in the fill rate even more significant.

Orders for the neuromuscular blockers cisatracurium, rocuronium, succinylcholine chloride and vecuronium also jumped 39 percent and their fill rate dropped to 70 percent.

Dan Kistner, senior vice president for pharmacy solutions at Vizient, said the group is working with the FDA, FEMA and drug manufacturers to bring up the supply.

“If the FDA can open a new manufacturing line or facility, they’ve got to do it as quickly as possible to prioritize these products,” Kistner said. “We need to keep a huge focus on this, just as there has been with getting more ventilators, because you can’t use a ventilator without the drugs that a patient needs in order to be on that ventilator.” — Suz Redfearn