Morphine shortage pushes Chicago doctors towards opioid alternatives

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Chicago area medical facilities are dealing with a shortage of injectable morphine, but that also means doctors are moving away from prescribing opioids. (WLS)

Chicago area medical facilities are dealing with a shortage of injectable morphine, but that also means doctors are moving away from prescribing opioids.

The morphine shortage is a part of the opioid crisis most people are not aware of. Some local health officials said the injectable versions of the drug, along with dilaudid and fentanyl, are in short supply.

Injectable opioids are pain control and sedation drugs used in hospital settings for surgeries, traumatic injuries, burns and cancer.

Although Cancer Treatment Centers of America said patient pain management and care hasn't been negatively affected by the shortage, it has left them scrambling to find alternative pain relieving drugs which could end up costing them thousands more money.

"We have many processes in place to ensure that our nurses and physicians have the tools that they need and the medications that they need to provide clinically excellent care and to treat pain," said Jacklynn Lesnaik, Cancer Treatment Centers of America senior vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer.

The shortage of the three medications became critical last summer after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration halted production after finding manufacturing problems at Pfizer. The drug company controls at least 60 percent of the market of opioids.

Companies can't make up the shortage because the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration limits the amount of raw materials drug makers get each year.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company said: "The nationwide move away from using opioids along with attempts by the DEA to reduce opioid production another 20 percent on top of 25 percent last year hasn't helped either."

And while groups like the American Society of Anesthesiologists are asking the government to temporally ease restrictions, they're also calling for hospitals to use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS to control pain.

Hopefully that will stir up health care providers to understand more and the options they have," said Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran, of the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine.

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a nonprofit medical group, also questioned if some elective surgeries ought to be cancelled or postponed amid concerns about the possibility of dosing errors.

"There is a problem. A, you have to find solution. B, patients should feel safe to come to the hospital," Buvanendran said.

There are signs that the shortage may be over soon. Full capacity is not expected until 2019, but facilities such as the Cancer Treatment Centers of America could find easier access to injectable opioids possibly in early July.

"There are patients that still need the morphine," Lesniak said.
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