Vizient warns medicines needed for ventilator patients are running low

Drugs used for ventilator patients—such as sedatives and neuromuscular blockers—are running low.

Healthcare performance company Vizient identified looming potential shortages among 13 drugs (PDF) found in three drug classes crucial to the use of ventilators, it said in a report released Tuesday. Vizient serves more than half of the nation’s hospitals and health systems and pulled the data from Vizient member purchases.

For example:

  • ​​​​​Sedatives and anesthetics: Drugs such as dexmedetomidine, etomidate, ketamine, lorazepam, midazolam and propofol have seen a 51% increase in demand for March and the fill rate drop to 63%. The data from March 1-24 were compared to baseline data from the period Jan. 2-25.

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  • Analgesics: Painkillers such as hydromorphone, fentanyl and morphine have seen a 67% increase in demand in March. The fill rate has dropped to 73%.
  • Neuromuscular blockers: Drugs such as cisatricurium, rocuronium, succinylcholine chloride vecuronium have seen a 39% increase in demand for March. The fill rate has dropped to 70%.

“What we are seeing now is some products that are in a shortage and others that are in a very tight market. The data show that orders placed are not being completely filled and it is spiraling toward a major shortage of the medications necessary for patients who require a ventilator,” said Dan Kistner, group senior vice president of pharmacy solutions for Vizient, in a statement.

It's among a number of supply chain challenges hospitals have begun facing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic including lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and drugs. Experts have said part of the problem is the impact of the pandemic on China, a key manufacturer of PPE and active ingredients for drugs.

Vizient provided recommendations to the Food and Drug Administration this week urging them to take steps to expand access to medications associated with ventilator use.

They also pushed for the FDA to approve new lines of manufacturing or facilities that can make these critical drugs and provide flexibility to 503B compounders by allowing them to produce any essential medications regardless of their current stocking status.