Like health providers big and small across the U.S., Owensboro Health is keeping a close eye on the pharmaceutical industry amid shortages and wholesale allocation limits.

As the threat of COVID-19 spread through the nation and Owensboro-Daviess County, many people, just like in grocery stores, began “panic buying” as much over-the-counter medication as they could. In the first week, the daily numbers jumped from an average of 200 to 300 people, said B.C. Childress, director of outpatient pharmacy services.

“We saw an influx in panic buying and it started to wipe us out,” he said. “We have purchase limits on cold and cough meds like SUDAFED. They are limited to one per person per day. When it first hit, we had people trying to buy out all of our Tylenol, NyQuil and hand sanitizer. Thermometers were one of the first things to go in the beginning. We purchased all that we could on the last day and donated them to the hospital.”

Like all pharmacists, Childress is also facing purchasing allocation limits from pharmaceutical wholesalers, he said.

“When the pandemic caught on, wholesalers began to put their drugs on lock down,” he said. “Chronic disease medications went on allocation limits almost immediately to prevent pharmacies from stockpiling. I think our drug wholesaler had a knee jerk reaction because of panic. I don’t think they are out of stock, but they are trying to hold inventory as best they can, but we are doing our due diligence.”

Right now the pharmacy’s main focus is on being able to provide the medications needed by their core customer base, Childress said.

“We primarily serve our team members and we are also concerned about making sure our people being discharged have what they need,” he said. “We are looking at those chronic disease medications and measuring our use of them as we work with our wholesaler to lock down an allotment for us. We are really pushing back, because we have patients, like those depending on diabetic medications for example, that require three bottles of medication a month.”

The pharmacy is also working toward stocking up on generic medications as “name-brands” become more scarce, such in the case of inhalers, he said.

“There are four generics of Albuterol and we are trying to keep a supply of all of them,” he said. “If a doctor has been writing that prescription then he can switch it for one of the others. The Federal Drug Administration was criticized for allowing all of these drugs to come to market that show no difference in benefit, which is why a doctor can prescribe one out of numerous options with one not being any better than the other. Now, it is working to our advantage.”

As far as life post COVID-19, Childress hopes the FDA takes notice and makes steps to end pharmaceutical uncertainty in the field, he said.

“I think the biggest uncertainty is that the FDA and the country don’t know where most of the components in medicine come from,” he said. “The FDA has recently started working in a list and have identified 150 active pharmaceutical ingredients. The standard has been is that these materials are shipped from country to country until it is assembled. The issue is that it is difficult to predict if Drug X is getting all of its active ingredients. There are a lot of mysteries surrounding these drugs. I think the FDA has to increase their oversight; the takeaway is that we need to know every component of what is consumed and they have to ensure those standards. The FDA has to get a grasp on this whole process otherwise we will continue to face shortages and the potential for contamination. They need to use this as a learning experience.”

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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