Though reports vary, it appears that there is a world-wide shortage of heparin. Heparin is an injected medication that prevents clot formation and extension. Where I work it's used to keep IV pressure lines and dialysis catheters from clotting off, to reduce clot formation until longer-term anticoagulation therapy kicks in as well as for the prevention of thrombosis formation in patients who have reduced mobility, i.e. lying in bed all the time. We got word that the normal supply was disrupted and so for single doses would have to use syringes that Pharmacy is preparing and distributing.
After some reading of wire reports, I think I got a handle on the shortage. Starting at the end of last year, there were reports of patients experiencing allergic symptoms such as difficulty breathing, rapid drops in blood pressure, nausea, and vomiting after single doses of heparin. In February, Baxter Healthcare Corp. issued a recall of heparin after many more reports of reactions including some deaths. Later Baxter announced they were suspending manufacturing. A couple weeks ago B. Braun Medical Inc. and American Health Packaging issue a voluntary recall as well.
Turns out that some of the ingredients were originally produced in China. In early March, the FDA found that the Baxter heparin had a substance called chondroitin sulfate in it that had been chemically changed so that it had a similar effect as heparin. Chondritin sulfate is much cheaper - shades of lead-based paint on toys huh? At first, the Chinese government said that quality control on the manufacturing of heparin should be carried out by the importers. They about-faced several weeks ago and issued new guidelines for stepped up testing and registering of suppliers.
Between this lax control on manufacturing and the Tibet crackdown, I'm a little peeved at China.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) publicly stated that there was no heparin shortage because of the recalls but, uh, when you've got three of five manufactures recalling it and hospitals practically rationing supplies, that's a problem.