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Drug Shortages Push First Responders to Use Expired Meds

07/13/2012 -

Emergency responders in “various jurisdictions” are turning to expired medications because of drug shortages across the nation.

States are responding to the shortages by loosening rules, allowing emergency medical personnel to keep old drugs around in the absence of unexpired meds. In Oregon, ambulances were authorized to carry expired medications. Parts of Nevada have extended expiration dates on drugs in short supply for up to a year. Arizona no longer penalizes ambulances for running out of mandated medications.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that using expired medical products “is risky and possibly harmful to your health.” Medications, after their expiration date, canchange in chemical composition or decrease in effectiveness, but the agency occasionally allows use of specific batches after they are tested for safety.

Many emergency responders feel they have no choice. The Bend Fire Department in Oregon says it had 11 expired medications in its drug kits at one point.

“We've never (before) had to go diving back into the bin to try to retrieve expired boxes of drugs,” Tom Wright, emergency medical services coordinator for the Bend Fire Department told the Associated Press. "We had the backing of our insurance company that giving expired drugs is better than giving no drugs at all. The department still carries expired doses of two drugs.

FDA officials say it could take years before supplies get back to normal levels.

“Manufacturing quality lapses, production shutdowns for contamination and other serious problems are behind many of the shortages…Other reasons include increased demand for some drugs, companies ending production of some drugs with small profit margins, consolidation in the generic drug industry and limited supplies of some ingredients,” the AP reports.

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