Nationwide shortage of drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and severe COVID-19 patients

MARYLAND- Shortages of drugs, it’s something health officials are seeing throughout the pandemic.

That’s because the same drugs being used to treat certain conditions are also being used for COVID-19 patients.

We can see this with Actemra.

“There is a national shortage at least for the next couple of weeks,” Matthew Balish, pharmacist at Apple Discount Drugs, said.

Actemra treats rheumatoid arthritis.

We’re told the drug can reduce inflammation that can make severe COVID-19 patients even more sick, and for most it’s being used for specific criteria.

“You have to be on ECMO, which is a lifesaving treatment in the hospital, you have to be on a ventilator, you have to be on Dexamethasone, which is a steroid, so it’s being used for very sick people with COVID,” Balish said.

But with this drug being used for COVID-19 patients, we’re told within the last month or so it’s harder to come by.

“It’s gone now on allocation, which means it’s being distributed kind of based on usage, as well as prioritization for patients who need it,” Sarah Benner, Clinical Pharmacy Coordinator, said.

Which is having an impact on people who need it for rheumatoid arthritis.

“One of the big impacts is that our patients that are on it chronically and are no longer able to get it so they are being switched to other alternatives and their treatments are having to be extended as well,” Benner said.

Genentech, the company who makes this drug said the demand went up more than 400% beyond pre-covid levels in just two weeks.

And they’re working hard to increase capacity.

“I touched base with one of our local rheumatology offices and they’ve been assured by Genentech that within the next couple of weeks they are hoping to resolve this supply issue,” Balish said.

But in the mean time, health officials said to help lessen the drug shortage, get vaccinated.

“We are really pushing that on discharge, that’s the best way that we can combat COVID-19 right now especially with drug shortages the way that they are,” Balish said.

Categories: Coronavirus, Local News, Maryland