Drug Shortage Fears After Hurricane Maria Hits Puerto Rico

As I mentioned in my previous post about the 2017 hurricane season, Hurricane Maria did between $45 and $95 billion in damage to the island of Puerto Rico. This damage hit the island’s manufacturing industry as hard as the rest of the economy.

Pharmaceuticals and medical devices are Puerto Rico’s leading exports. Because of this, healthcare professionals are worried about shortages of critical medicines.

Manufacturing Critical Medications

Hurricane Maria has badly affected manufacturing in Puerto Rico
People walk next to a gas station flooded and damaged by the impact of Hurricane Maria, which hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, September 20, 2017. Source: NewsInfo.inquirer.net. Photo by Carlos Giusti/AP

The biggest concern in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is the welfare of the people and communities.

But there are 13 drugs that the FDA is now concerned could be in short supply. These 13 drugs are critical medicines – they have no therapeutic substitutes.

The storm impacted factories that manufacture medications to treat conditions like HIV and cancer. It also affected facilities that supply small bags of dextrose and saline used by hospitals to prepare medication.

Most healthcare companies said their properties in Puerto Rico made it through the storm largely intact. But catastrophic damage to roads and to the electrical grid shut down production at some plants entirely.

Hurdles To Rebuilding

The first big hurdle to getting pharmaceutical and medical-device factories up and running again is a lack of fuel to power generators.


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On October 4, officials were waiting for 300,000 barrels of gasoline and 100,000 barrels of diesel to arrive on the island. But the people who are depending on generator power must hope that the fuel reaches them before their supplies run out. Mechanical malfunctions of generators are also a big worry.

Another problem is that impassable roads are making it difficult for some factory employees to travel to work. Understandably, many affected workers are also choosing to stay home to care for their families during the crisis.

Uncertain Future

Hurricane Maria has badly affected manufacturing in Puerto Rico
Toa Alta, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Source: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

So far, none of the pharmaceutical companies operating on the island have said that they expect shortages as a result of Maria. But William McLaury, who worked for Novartis AG for three decades, said, “It takes time for the inventory to work its way through the system, and there’s a gap behind it. If power is going to be out, if roads are going to be impassable – the longer that goes on, the bigger the impact.”

Erin Fox, a drug shortage expert at the University of Utah, is also concerned. She said she and other hospital pharmacists are monitoring the situation. They’re worried that the storm’s impact could exacerbate the United States’ already dire drug-shortage problem.

 

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Sources: CNN Money, CNBC.com, MHLNews.com. NYTimes.com, Wired.comNewsInfo.inquirer.net