Why children’s medications are scarce in Maryland pharmacies when parents need them most

Pediatric medicines are not easy to find on store shelves across Maryland when parents most need relief for sick children during an unusual cold and flu season. Even behind the pharmacy counter with a doctor’s license, parents look in vain at multiple retailers for some medicines. All of this is happening while the state is experiencing some of the highest rates of childhood illnesses in recent years, particularly with the outbreak of the respiratory syncytial virus, also known as the common cold, which has sent children to hospitals overwhelmed by the influx.

Antibiotics like amoxicillin and azithromycin are in short supply, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Antipyretic drugs, the flu drug Tamiflu, and other medications ranging from inhalers packed with albuterol to nebulizer treatments that turn liquid medication into a breathable mist are hard to find.

“I think it’s very stressful for vendors [and] the caregivers,” said Lisa Polinsky, associate vice president of pharmacy services at LifeBridge Health, a regional hospital system that includes Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. “Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, all become very concerned when there is a chance that we may not have a medicine that a patient needs. It causes quite a bit of stress, especially when you have a surge of pediatric patients who may need an antibiotic for a secondary infection or Tamiflu for influenza.”

There are 88 people hospitalized statewide with respiratory syncytial virus during the largest outbreak in five years, mostly children or older adults.

The outbreak of the virus appeared to be peaking when more than 250 people were in Maryland hospitals a few weeks ago. But hospitalizations aren’t the only way communities are being affected by the outbreak.

Many more children nationwide have been struggling with RSV-like illnesses and even bacterial infections in the past five years that never show up in emergency rooms.

Medical experts say things could get worse as the weather turns colder and the flu and COVID rise.

Sara Costa has experienced the lack firsthand. Her one-year-old son was recently diagnosed with an ear infection.

“Unfortunately, my first thought was, ‘How do we get amoxicillin?'” she said.

The doctor wrote out a paper prescription to treat the ear infection rather than calling a specific pharmacy because they knew Costa would have trouble finding the drug.

“We went to the pharmacy and it’s sold out, the pharmacist looked at me like I was crazy,” Costa said. “When I asked, ‘Where can we get this?’ The pharmacist just said, ‘You can’t do that.’ And that’s hard as a parent because you know what’s best for your child and you can’t get it.”

Costa eventually got help from a family member who is a pediatrician to track down a dispensary with antibiotics.

Drug companies say they are working to increase supply of medicines to hospitals and pharmacies, but it takes time to build stocks.

Carrie Adams, chief operating officer at Meritus Medical, a western Maryland hospital center, said companies aren’t making as many drugs because diseases like RSV and the flu haven’t been as prevalent in recent years.

“Manufacturers are basing their inventory for next year on last year’s utilization, and since the flu wasn’t very common last year, the numbers are wrong,” Adams said. “Tamiflu as a perfect example, as we see an increase in flu cases, usage of the most popular prescription flu drug is almost 100%, higher than last year.”

Hospitals and pharmacies have some alternative options. You can split adult doses into smaller children’s doses, or turn to other antibiotics in IV or injection form.

Medical experts say the shortage doesn’t currently stand in the way of treating children, but they did To ponder a little further into the winter.

doctors are burdensome proper hygiene, vaccinations and staying home if you feel ill to reduce the chance of spreading disease.


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