University of Utah service tracks drug shortages for patients, health care providers nationwide

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SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah Health's Drug Information Service clinical pharmacists are busy tracking drug shortages nationwide to help patients and their health care providers.

"We get voluntary reports from health care providers, usually pharmacists, then we investigate," said associate chief pharmacy officer Erin Fox. "Is it really a shortage or not? And how we do that is we contact the drug companies directly to confirm, and then we continue to follow up."

She said the service posts its findings online.

"What we do is post it up on a public website so everyone can see what is available, as well as what's not available, because understanding what you can't access is really important to making a plan for your patients," Fox explained. "Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, a lot of health care providers use these data."

People across the country rely on the data the university's Drug Information Service provides.

"There is another shortage website, and it's run by the FDA," Fox said. "The difference with our site is that we can recommend, we're pharmacists, we can recommend evidence-based alternatives, we can provide safety warnings about mix-ups that could occur during a shortage. The FDA can't do that. They can only speak to one specific product and the product's labeling."

She said her team has been tracking the ongoing ADHD drug shortage.

"That one is really frustrating," Fox said. "The drug companies are saying that they don't have enough of the raw material that they need to make Adderall in some cases. In other cases, the (Drug Enforcement Administration) that really allocates that raw material to the drug companies, the DEA says they have enough."

She said it's impacting patients nationwide, and there's no overall reason for the shortage of drugs for those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

"We're in a really frustrating situation right now where patients may be going to the pharmacy counter and not being able to fill their prescriptions," Fox said.

That includes patients like Kemry Riggins, who said he's called every pharmacy in the Salt Lake City area.

"I had run out of Adderall, I think, in December … and then after that, I just started getting very irritated and anxious all the time," he recalled.

He started having problems at the pharmacy counter back in 2021.

"They would answer the phone and be like, 'are you looking for Adderall? We don't have it in stock. We're not going to have it in stock,'" Riggins said.

Without it, he's struggled. He lost his job.

"I wasn't really able to handle stress. I couldn't stay focused at work," Riggins said.

He said he tried alternative drugs. Some weren't as effective, and others were too expensive.

"Our patients are in a bad spot of having to choose to either spend more money or maybe have a less effective product, or completely go without treatment," Fox explained.

Riggins said he's now using Dexedrine, but he said he still has concerns.

"I've cut my dose from 40 milligrams to 10 milligrams per day, so I can kind of taper my body in a way so I'm not going to have some insane depression again if I do run out and they can't fill it," he said.

Meanwhile, Utah's Drug Information Service watches to see how long a shortage, like one for ADHD drugs, might last.

"We're hopeful that as this new year starts, it will start to improve," Fox said. "Some of the labor issues that were causing problems at some of the companies should be completely resolved by now. Sometimes media attention also helps ramp up production as well."

In addition to tracking the ongoing ADHD drug shortage, Fox and her team are following other areas in short supply.

"We're also, unfortunately, starting to see some shortages of some chemotherapy products," she said. "We hope that those won't get worse because chemotherapy doesn't have a lot of alternatives. We're also seeing shortages of some really basic products like Albuterol that is used in pediatric hospitals."

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