Rising drug costs put strain on local EMS departments - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Rising drug costs put strain on local EMS departments

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MIDDLETON (WKOW) -- Emergency medical teams need a full supply of medications on hand at all times as they respond to people in crisis, but in recent years, the drugs paramedics regularly stock have been hard to come by.

Middleton's EMS Director Steve Wunsch tells 27 News since 2011, a national drug shortage has at times made some medications completely unavailable in the normal quantities and doses. That availability problem has caused prices of common supplies to skyrocket.

"Right now, one of the items out there that are in short supply, you really can't come up with a good reason why, it's something as simple as an IV solution. That's nothing other than sterile water and salt," says Wunsch. "Something that's been in production for hundreds of years, now is in short supply. We can't understand why,but it's impacting us so we have to change the way we do business just to adapt and do the service that we need to do."
 
Middleton EMS is required to stock about 40 different kinds of drugs, to help paramedics respond to their average of five calls per day. Wunsch says most of those drugs have been in short supply at some point, sometimes backordered. 
 
Wunsch tells 27 News the department's budget for drugs and medical supplies has gone up from $22,909 in 2008, to $36,266 in 2013. The total budget is around $1.5 million a year.
 
While the city has been understanding of rising costs, the department has found ways to still get the drugs the paramedics need out on calls.
 
Some options Wunsch has turned to include buying larger volumes of drugs, altering the concentration of the drug and adjusting the dose accordingly, or buying a different type of the drug. All those options come with extra costs or waste.
 
The problem is not unique to Middleton, drug shortages are hitting EMS departments all over the nation. Wunsch says they can't share certain drugs between agencies, because of federal regulations.

Wunsch says the drug shortages first appeared in 2011, after the FDA started cracking down on unsafe practices in the pharmaceutical industry. Some believe these are manufactured shortages as a way for the industry to push back against government regulation.

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