Emergency Rooms Run Out of Vital Drugs, and Patients Are Feeling It

CHICAGO — George Vander Linde tapped a code into the emergency room’s automated medicine cabinet. A drawer slid open and he flipped the lid, but found nothing inside.

Mr. Vander Linde, a nurse, tried three other compartments that would normally contain vials of morphine or another painkiller, hydromorphone. Empty. Empty. Empty.

The staff was bracing for a busy weekend. Temperatures were forecast for the 90s and summer is a busy time for hospital emergency departments — the time of year when injuries rise from bike accidents, car crashes, broken bottles and gunshots.

At Norwegian American Hospital and other emergency departments around the country, doctors and nurses have been struggling for months without crucial drugs like morphine, which is used to ease the pain of injuries like broken bones, or diltiazem, a heart drug. Norwegian has been out of morphine since March, and the shortages are part of a nagging problem that has intensified this year as a rash of decades-old staples became scarce.


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