Local drug shortage worsens with meningitis scare that killed 28 people

Local hospitals have to mix their own drugs

TAMPA - A long-running shortage of prescription drugs has gotten much worse since an outbreak of meningitis killed 28 people around the country.

Here in the Tampa Bay area, drugs for women in labor and people facing surgery are in very short supply.

The meningitis outbreak that killed a Miami High School student, along with 27 others, was linked to steroid shots for back pain.  The drugs were reportedly contaminated, which led the pharmaceutical parent company, Ameridose, to pull the steroids off the shelves, along with many other drugs unrelated to the outbreak.

"It's a lot of different drugs.  Everything from magnesium bags in intravenous form to pain medicine," said pharmacist, Jim Maister.

Maister says all those drugs were recalled from the Florida Hospital North Pinellas, where he works.  Now he and other technicians have to mix or compound the medicines by hand.

"Our patients are taken care of to the highest standards. It's just a lot more work," said Maister.

It's a good thing for patients that local pharmacies and hospitals can formulate the scarce drugs, which include oxytocin, given to women in labor, pain killers for those undergoing surgery and high dose diuretics for those with heart failure.  

The problem is the drugs they make have much shorter expiration times than the versions they got from the big suppliers -- as short as one or two days.

To keep up with demand, local pharmacists and technicians have to be mixing fresh batches almost constantly to keep the hospital running.  

Maister believes the shortage will be eased as soon as big companies like Ameridose are cleared to start shipping these drugs again.

Until then, local hospital say they'll do what have to, to make sure patient care doesn't suffer.   

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