COVID-19 pandemic causes shortage of common ICU drugs at Hawaii hospitals

Critical drugs used to treat patients in the ICU are in short supply

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii hospitals are having a hard time purchasing critical drugs often needed to treat patients in intensive care, and doctors say the shortage is connected to the pandemic.

Around the world, COVID-19 patients having trouble breathing on their own are being hooked up to ventilators. But in order to use that piece of equipment, you have to have an ample supply of sedatives and other drugs.

So far, the coronavirus has put minimal strain on Hawaii’s healthcare system.

But doctors warn there’s already a shortage of medications used to treat patients with severe cases of the virus.

“When you intubate people you have to sedate them, so they’re out," said Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is also an ER doctor. "You also have to give them a paralytic so they’re not moving around, to get the tube down in their breathing area.”

But that’s not the only thing those drugs are used for. They are commonly administered during surgery and to treat intensive care patients.

Honolulu anesthesiologist Dr. Brian Diamond provided us with a list of medications he says are either currently in short supply or on back order. They include propofol, midazolam, fentanyl, morphine, benzodiazepine and ketamine.

Pharmacists say they also saw a run hydroxychloroquine. The drug is used to treat conditions like malaria and lupus.

“About three weeks ago all the bottles were out. You couldn’t get it anywhere,” said Patrick Adams, director of Pharmacy at Malama Compounding Pharmacy.

President Trump has repeatedly recommended the medication, despite warnings from his own health officials that there is little data to support its widespread use as a treatment for the coronavirus.

“I think maybe some of the idea that it is a cure may be in question," Adams said. "And we’re seeing that drug come back on the market.”

Adams has been keeping a close eye on Hawaii’s drug supply and says although there are shortages right now there’s no reason to panic.

“I think that we have our warehouses full enough,” he said.

“I think as long as we keep controlling the virus the way we have. I think we’re in really good shape. But I don’t think that’s true in some places like New York, Detroit or New Orleans. I believe the shortages are probably playing out for them.”

Adams added one thing is he concerned about is the price for rubbing alcohol, the main ingredient in hand sanitizer. Right now his pharmacy is paying $125 a gallon. He says that includes the price of hazmat shipping.

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