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Wash. Paramedics Concerned about Drug Shortage Crisis

Paramedics in the city of Spokane provide medications to about 15,000 people every year.

Thousands more are treated each year in the county.

Spokane paramedics are concerned that nationwide medication shortages will keep them from providing the best emergency care, the Spokane Fire Department announced Wednesday.

Brian Schaeffer, assistant fire chief, said Wednesday that the causes of the shortages are many and affect different drugs at different times, but listed two drugs that provide critical relief and that have been more difficult to get recently.

One is fentanyl, a strong painkiller that paramedics administer after a traumatic accident. Another is Zofran, which helps people cope with nausea.

"We keep a diverse set of medications at the ready," Schaeffer said.

"Not being able to get them poses a problem."

If preferred drugs are not available, paramedics turn to second choices that are adequate but not as effective,Schaeffer said.

Without fentanyl, for example, paramedics may instead use morphine.

The cause of the shortage problem is varied, he said.

Pharmaceutical companies sometimes struggle to accurately gauge demand; some companies have had production and quality problems; others say the manufacture of drugs isn't profitable enough.

Sometimes available drugs are snapped up and hoarded by agencies attempting to offset their own shortages.

Schaeffer said patients are not in danger from the drug shortages, but the problems require paramedics to sometimes break with established protocols during an emergency.

"It's hard to say how this can get fixed," he said.

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