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Drugs authorized for emergency use creating shortages

Posted at 10:02 PM, Oct 06, 2021

CENTRAL TEXAS — Various drugs have been found to be a potential method of treatment for the Coronavirus, but as those drugs see an increase in use, it's getting harder for non-virus patients to get the medicine they need.

A prominent example of this is Actemra. It's a drug normally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. With the drug having been shown to help the body fight the virus, the FDA authorized it for emergency use. The result was a spike in demand, creating problems for rheumatologists like Dr. Eugene Fung.

"Definitely a shortage in the last couple months. And as a matter of fact, some of our patients who are on the regular treatment, many of them on monthly infusion treatment, they were not able to get it," said Dr. Fung.

Dr. Fung works with an arthritis practice in Waco. He says some of his patients have had to experience some discomfort while they wait for the Actemra supply to be replenished.

"Certainly we understand that COVID is a priority in saving lives," said Fung.

Waco resident Joy Romano is able to sympathize with people having to go without their medication. She takes medicine for another ailment and says she would be in a lot of trouble if her prescription was suddenly in short supply.

"If it's going to be in a shortage, I cannot live without it," Romano said. "I have to take it every day. So of course, it's so messed up."

Romano hopes that the pharmaceutical companies responsible for manufacturing the drugs are able to counter the demand by increasing supply.

Doctor Fung has heard from colleagues around the country, such as New York, who say the Actemra shortage is worse than what he's seen in Central Texas. Right now they have enough medication to cover treatment that is already in progress.

"So in a way we are lucky. We are able to manage to keep our patients on the treatment, but we cannot start any new ones," said Fung.

A pharmacist with Baylor Scott and White declined to go on camera but added that drug shortages are an everyday occurrence in the medical field. So far, their shelves have not experienced any shortages of supplies. When reached for comment, Martindale Family Medicine in Waco also stated that they have not run into any shortages with drugs they prescribe.

While Dr. Fung's office awaits more medicine, he says the best thing the public can do to avoid repeat shortages is to protect themselves against the pandemic.

"I would say go back to the public health issue," said Fung. "Listen to the public health authority. And vaccination is very important."

Health experts continue to recommend vaccinations because it is our best method of slowing the pandemic, which would allow these drugs to return to their intended patients.