Shortage of drug could keep women from experiencing first moments after childbirth

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. - It’s one of the most treasured moments for a new mom: The first minutes of their baby’s life.

But a shortage of a spinal anesthetic, pain management medication, called Bupivacaine, threatens to put moms-to-be under general anesthesia during a Caesarean section, leaving them missing those first moments.

“Obviously, I’d like to be awake,” said Ashley Jones, a Florida nurse who is also five months pregnant. "There are a lot of nice moments that happen, important moments that happen in the first few hours of birth. To see the look on my husband's face the first time he sees our daughter is important to me,” Jones said.

Dr. Pete Papapanos, an OB/GYN with Physicians to Women in Stuart, Florida says Bupivacaine is also used in epidurals.

If they run out of the medication, there are other pain management options for women who are not having a C-section. But the only other option for women who need a C-section is general anesthesia, Papapanos said.

There are currently dozens of medication shortages, according to the FDA, which is common in the medical field. But this shortage has doctors and pregnant women keeping a close eye on their local supplies.

Bupivacaine shortages are being experienced at hospitals across the country, not only in Florida.

“The shortage has been getting more critical probably the last few weeks,” Papapanos said.

He is having conversations with his patients to let them know about the shortage. Fortunately, it has not impacted anyone’s delivery day yet.

The Martin Health System says it is staying on top of the current supply issues, and is maintaining its supply. Doctors and pharmacists are also being instructed on how to maintain the supplies they have. For now, they have enough supply to last for the foreseeable future.

A spokesperson for Tenet Health also provided the following statement:

“We manage inventory of our hospital supplies, especially medications, very closely. Should manufacturing issues affect the medication supply levels in our hospital, we take steps to conserve, identify alternative treatment protocols with physicians and work with suppliers to replenish inventory.”

Pfizer is one of the largest manufacturers of the drug. A spokesperson explained the shortage is due to manufacturing capacity constraints, prioritization of other medically necessary products, competitor shortages, and complexities related to upgrade work at the manufacturing sites.

“We recognize the importance of these medications to patients and physicians. These issues are now resolved and we have begun shipping product. Full recovery may not occur until the third quarter of this year,” said Steve Danehy, Director of Global Media Relations.

Other medical experts fear that it could take until 2019 to see a full recovery of supplies.

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