Utahns struggle more than most to get prescription drugs. Here’s some expert advice.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribunes’ ongoing commitment to identifying solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab. [Subscribe to our newsletter here]

There are drug shortages across the country, and Utah is suffering more than many states, in more ways than one.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Utah has the second-highest rate of people among the 50 states who report experiencing a prescription drug shortage in the past month, and Utahns have the sixth-highest higher rate of over-the-counter drug shortages. meds.

Utah is also home to the service, which created a national database to help hospitals, think tanks and lawmakers address the problem of drug shortages.

University of Utah Drug Information Service Chief Erin Fox said that while people may feel the hassle of finding prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs and other medical needs, the problem is not generalized

It’s certainly frustrating that people can’t get the medicine they need, Fox said, but overall I’d say it’s not too bad right now.

People in the pharmaceutical industry are working on solutions at the national level, Fox said. He added that there are easy, everyday solutions that patients can use, including talking to their pharmacist.

More than 16 percent of Utahns reported, as part of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Dust Survey (a program created in response to the pandemic that provides near-real-time data), who had experienced a shortage of prescription drugs.

That’s the second-highest rate in the country, behind only Louisiana, the last time the survey asked that question in mid-to-late October. It was similarly high in other rounds of the survey.

The number represents about 400,000 Utahns who struggled to get prescription drugs by the end of 2023.

Utah’s rate was 33.1% higher than the national rate of 12.2%.

Rates in neighboring states were much lower, from 10.7% in Nevada to 12.9% in Idaho.

Another 140,000 Utahns, about 5.7% of the population, struggled to find their favorite over-the-counter drug. It is the sixth highest rate.

Residents of some nearby states had similar struggles, with at least 5 percent of people in Arizona, Idaho and Wyoming reporting trouble finding over-the-counter medications.

The U.S. Drug Information Service does not track shortages by region, said Fox, who serves as the health systems’ associate pharmacy director in addition to leading the DIS.

The Medicines Information Service keeps track of which medicines are hard to find nationally.

In particular, Fox said, that included drugs intended to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which have been hard to find and still are in some cases.

There are additional complications for ADHD medications, he said, because the US Drug Enforcement Administration treats them the same as morphine and other opioids.

There are very hard limits on pharmacies on how much they can order, Fox said, and pharmacies can’t always order enough, especially when they’re getting new patients.

Fox also detailed shortages of some chemotherapy drugs, Ozempic and other weight-loss drugs, some blood pressure drugs and eye drops.

Hospitals are offering creative solutions, Fox said, including scheduling two chemotherapy appointments at once so they can split a dose so each treatment only uses half of a vial.

Providers can also switch people to other drugs that have the same effect, he said, although it often takes a lot of work to get someone an alternate prescription because of the time it takes to change ordering and stocking habits.

While the Federal Drug Administration bears much of the blame for the shortage, Fox said, the agency can’t force drug companies to make any drug, no matter how life-saving it may be.

As professionals and lawmakers work on solutions, there are everyday things patients can do, Fox said.

His first recommendation is to talk to your pharmacist about alternative medicines. Then they can talk to the prescribing doctor, he said, or the pharmacist can update the prescription.

Fox also recommended that people understand the active ingredients in over-the-counter medications so they can see if another product will help in the same way if their desired medication is out of stock.

Don’t panic, he said. It’s very easy to get frustrated when there are supply issues.

People should take a deep breath, Fox said, and be willing to have the conversation and see if they should come back in a couple of days or if it’s a long-term problem that requires a change in medication.

It’s also important to have a relationship with your pharmacy, Fox said.

If you’re their regular Ritalin patient, they know they’ll fill you up, so you might not deplete your supply to fill a brand new patient prescription, she said.

Megan Banta is the data company reporter for The Salt Lake Tribunes, a philanthropic support position. The Tribune retains control over all editorial decisions.

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