Drug Shortages: A Problem for Pets, Too
Have you heard about the problems that human physicians are having getting the drugs they need to treat their patients? The stories surrounding people undergoing chemotherapy are especially heartbreaking.
At a time when patients and their families should be focusing on their own well-being, they instead have to man the phones searching for the drugs that are keeping them alive. And even when they find them, sometimes necessitating trips of hundreds of miles to be treated, the stress, uncertainty, and delays surely must have an adverse affect.
The problem is not limited to human medicine. Veterinarians and pet owners are facing a similar situation with drugs that are in short supply or are not being made any more. In some instances, good alternatives do exist, but even in these cases veterinarians are forced into using drugs that they are not familiar with. This can increase the chances of a medical mistake occurring.
I’ve put together a list of some of the drugs that are currently in short supply that should be of particular concern to cat and dog owners.
- Immiticide — the only drug licensed to treat heartworm infections in dogs is not currently in production. I hate to think of the number of animals that might die if this situation isn’t rectified soon.
- Vetsulin — a type of insulin manufactured specifically for pets that is no longer being made. This has forced owners and veterinarians into the costly and potentially dangerous position of having to switch to a different type of insulin.
- Chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin and doxorubicin that are used to treat a variety of cancers.
- Antibiotics — including some types of amikacin, azithromycin, ciprofloxacin, metronidazole, and gentamicin.
- Pain relievers like buprenorphine and butorphanol.
- Acyclovir — an antiviral drug sometimes used to treat feline herpes infections.
- Propofol — a type of injectable anesthetic.
- Acetazolamide — used in the treatment of glaucoma.
- Aminophylline — used to relieve airway constriction and help animals breathe.
- Injectable atropine sulfate and glycopyrrolate — used to keep an animal’s heart rate up during anesthetic procedures.
- Azathioprine — a therapy for autoimmune diseases.
- Bupivacaine with epinephrine — a local anesthetic used to block the pain of declaw procedures, incisions, etc.
- Injectable diazepam — used to treat seizures, as part of anesthetic protocols, and more.
- Injectable furosemide — used to reduce fluid build-up in the body (e.g., in the lungs as a result of congestive heart failure).
The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) has a very comprehensive list of drugs that are currently in short supply. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is another good source of information, particularly for veterinary-only products.
To help prevent potential problems with your own pets, make sure to order your refills well before they are needed so you always have at least a few weeks of medications on hand. This is a good habit to get into even in the absence of a drug shortage so that you are prepared for natural disasters, unexpected trips, etc. Don’t hoard medications, however. This simply makes the problem worse for other owners. If a problem arises with the availability of one of your pet’s medications, talk to your veterinarian about alternative suppliers and/or treatment protocols.
Has anyone out there faced a drug shortage? What did you do?
Dr. Jennifer Coates