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Drug shortages impact Northland providers

Providers at St. Luke's and Essentia say national shortages of amoxicillin, Adderall and Tamiflu are felt locally, but not fully disrupting care at this point.

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DULUTH — Drug shortages are impacting pharmacies and patients across the country, especially amid a time of high viral infection rates.

In the Northland, supplies of amoxicillin, Adderall and Tamiflu are among the most impacted.

Kenzie Hohman, senior director of ambulatory care pharmacy at Essentia Health, said the oral suspension form of amoxicillin has been the hardest to acquire for the last month or so. The powder is typically mixed with a liquid and used to treat bacterial infections. She said the shortage became most apparent last week, and memos had to be sent to providers to consider prescribing a tablet form of amoxicillin or an alternate antibiotic.

“We at Essentia have supply, but it’s intermittent and we’re having to deploy different strategies to take care of our patients and dispense the product,” Hohman said.

Because amoxicillin is a generic form of medicine, Hohman said they've been able to get varying concentrations and volumes of the antibiotic from suppliers. As of now, Hohman is not aware of any patients who have been completely unable to get a prescription for treatment.


“We’ve actually had patients travel up to the Northland to get their prescriptions from us when they haven’t been able to get them elsewhere in other communities,” Hohman said.

The reason for the shortage seems to be a combination of factors, although pharmaceutical companies have been vague in explanations. Supply chain issues, including a shortage of raw materials and labor, have been speculated to contribute to the shortage. According to the Food and Drug Administration's drug shortage database, "demand increase" is to blame for amoxicillin's low supply.

The strike will begin Dec. 11, unless tentative contract agreements are made with hospitals before then. Nurses at Essentia and Twin Cities hospitals would strike for three weeks, until Dec. 31. St. Luke's nurses plan to strike indefinitely.

Although there has been a large volume of infections of RSV, influenza, the common cold and COVID-19 this fall, Hohman said the shortage isn't caused by that.

“Some people ask, is the reason because it’s that time of year where there are more sick people getting antibiotics?" she said. "No, that’s not necessarily the root cause, but it definitely puts a strain on the supply.”

In a statement, St. Luke's said its pharmacies are having sporadic issues purchasing amoxicillin oral suspension, but have been able to offer alternative options. CVS and Walgreen also addressed the shortages, stating locations across the country are struggling to fill prescriptions for both amoxicillin and Adderall.

Doctors prescribing alternate medicines puts a strain on those, too. Hohman said wholesalers will proactively put those antibiotics on allocation when a shortage is noted in anticipation of further demand. Tamiflu, which is an antiviral medication used to treat influenza, has been in shorter supply at Essentia recently, and providers have been asked to only prescribe antibiotics when they are really necessary.

“The shortage of Tamiflu is expected to continue for the coming months, and we are seeing a rise of respiratory illnesses, so that’s one that we are closely monitoring and wanting to ensure usage is for higher-risk patients,” Hohman said.

Hohman reminds people that limiting the spread of viruses can help ease the strain on antibiotics.


“Like any time this season with things going around, taking care of yourself — good hand hygiene, trying to prevent spread of infections — those are all very good measures to take to help this situation, and just in general with a lot going around our communities,” Hohman said.

Adderall, which is also facing a national shortage, has been facing some availability problems in the Northland, but neither St. Luke's nor Essentia were aware of full disruption in distributing the amphetamine to patients.

"Availability is a challenge, but we are proud to say we have not had to delay any treatments," St. Luke's said in its statement. "We will continue working hard to ensure we have an adequate supply available for our patients."

Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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