Opioid shortage leaves South Florida hospitals looking for alternatives to treat pain

(WSVN) - When patients are hospitalized, they often rely on doctors there to prescribe powerful medication to stop their suffering. But a critical shortage of the vital drugs has hospitals scrambling. 7’s Brian Entin investigates.

Diren Chetty has been through a lot over the last several months.

First, a car accident that put him in the hospital for weeks.

Diren Chetty, hurt in accident: “I had 12 broken ribs. A fractured bone in my spine.”

And a month later, Diren had a major stomach operation at a different hospital.

Both times, he says nurses told him they were running out of some pain medications.

Diren Chetty: “She came and she told me that she can’t get the morphine because the pharmacy doesn’t have any right now.”

Brian Entin: “What did you think?”

Diren Chetty: “I was like, you know, this is absurd.”

Hospitals are dealing with an opioid shortage.

Not pain “pills” — but the injectable, liquid versions of morphine, fentanyl and dilaudid are at critically low levels.

Dave Lacknauth, director of pharmacy services at Broward Health: “There is shortages of all three, yes. One day we can order a thousand, the next day it’s two.”

It’s a problem nationwide.

At Broward Health, pharmacists are having to come up with alternatives to the IV painkillers.

Dave Lacknauth: “We’re probably seeing one of the worst times around shortages that I’ve ever seen in the history of being in pharmacy.”

Why the shortage? It’s complicated.

There have been manufacturing setbacks and delays because of the government’s push to more heavily regulate opioids.

And even if hospitals do get the IV drugs, there’s another problem. Pharmacists call it “the perfect storm.”

Hurricane Maria damaged or destroyed many of the manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico where IV bags are made.

Dave Lacknauth: “So, when that supply doesn’t get to us, we cannot let that patient go without treatment. So, we then have to put our health care heads together to figure out what is the alternative.”

All of the South Florida hospitals we’ve reached out to say they are combatting the shortage the same way by using alternative pain medications and constantly training doctors on those new medicines. What is most troubling, the hospitals say, is they haven’t been given a timeline on when the shortages will end.

Diren Chetty: “How can you be short for a whole country?”

Last week, because of the shortage, the DEA eased some of their restrictions on opioid production. But relief for hospitals is still months away.

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