RENO, NV - About six months ago dermatologist Dr. Cindy Lamerson started noticing a disturbing trend at her office.
She and her staff were having trouble stocking Lidocaine.
That's a drug she uses to numb the skin so she can do procedures, and the patient doesn't feel it.
“We couldn't get 2% Lidocaine and luckily we had a little bit of back stock of 1%. It's half the strength so we have to use double the amount, so you have to go through it more quickly. Also it doesn't work as effectively as the 2% does,” says Dr. Lamerson with Nevada Center for Dermatology.
But Lidocaine isn't the only drug in short supply.
According to the University of Utah's Drug Information Service, there are 275 medications currently in short supply.
“We know that in certain hospitals there are certain shortages, and those drugs just are not available. And we have to use substitutes. These substitutes are older medications which sometimes, have side effects, which we now with the modern medications really don't run into any more,” says anesthesiologist, Dr. Michael Bleyberg, who adds such a scenario is a far cry from the gold standard of care.
Dr. Bleyberg says the problem is multidimensional.
Most of the drugs are injected-- tougher to manufacture, and when production problems arise, either internally or through an F.D.A inspection that just takes the drug of the market.
Other manufacturers cannot keep up with the demand.
Some companies may choose to discontinue making less expensive generic drugs because of profit margins.
And in some cases there is a shortage of quality raw materials to make the drugs.
Children with Leukemia and their parents know this story all too well.
The cancer drug Methotrexate, a generic, is in short supply.
Doctors give Methotrexate in high dosages to fight the disease in combination with another drug Leucovorin.
As if to add insult to injury, Leucovorin is in short supply as well.
All of this adds to the cost of health care.
Currently there are unfamiliar distributors who offer to sell these drugs at higher than usual prices to pharmacies, hospitals, and surgery centers.
Known as the “Gray Market” the drugs can sell at a 1000% markup.