Hospitals Seeing Periodic Drug Shortages, Including Nitroglycerin


Periodic drug shortages are plaguing health providers across the nation, including some in Wisconsin. Injectable nitroglycerin, a drug used for heart attacks, is currently hard to come by.

Nitroglycerin is most commonly used to treat chest pain in cases of suspected heart attack. The country’s only manufacturer of injectable nitroglycerin hasn’t been able to keep up with demand.

Wisconsin’s largest health system is Aurora, with 15 hospitals and over 170 clinics. Executive vice President Dr. Jeff Smith says they have several weeks’ supply of the drug on hand.

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“It hasn’t affected our ability to treat patients, nor do we expect it will,” Smith said. “Fortunately, as a large integrated system we’re able to shift our supply from one facility to another to make sure we’re able to meet our patient’s needs.”

The American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists has a database of drug shortages. Currently there are 300 medications in short supply. The society says manufacturing problems last year accounted for an estimated 30 percent of the nation’s drug shortages. Smith says it’s a growing national problem.

“This happens because some of these medications, there may be only one or just a couple of manufacturers for,” Smith said.

“When those manufacturers have difficulty with production — whether they have problems with their facilities or whether they have a shortage of the raw materials that go into making the medications — then that can cause problems,” he went on.

Nitroglycerin helps open blood vessels. It’s been a longtime staple in treating heart disease, often in pill form. But for those experiencing serious heart attacks or congestive heart failure, only the IV version works.