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New Concerns on Heparin

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After contamination in the blood thinner heparin produced in China resulted in more than 80 deaths in the United States, Baxter International, the drug's largest manufacturer, suspended production and recalled most of its heparin products. That move has caused a shortfall in the supply of heparin, which is prescribed tens of millions of times annually, and has opened up new safety concerns as medical staff deal with heparin that is coming from drug makers in different quantities and strengths than nurses and doctors are accustomed to.

After contamination in the blood thinner heparin produced in China resulted in more than 80 deaths in the United States, Baxter International, the drug’s largest manufacturer, suspended production and recalled most of its heparin products. That move has caused a shortfall in the supply of heparin, which is prescribed tens of millions of times annually, and has opened up new safety concerns as medical staff deal with heparin that is coming from drug makers in different quantities and strengths than nurses and doctors are accustomed to.

The unfamiliar dosage configurations can lead to errors in administering heparin, which is already listed as one of the five drugs most commonly linked to medication mistakes in hospitals. The drug may come in 20-dose vials, for example, rather than in an easily used single-dose syringe. Some hospitals are giving nurses extra training in an effort to reduce the risk of error, while others are keeping heparin supplies in the hospital pharmacy, where nurses must pick up the drug and can then be reminded of dosage safety issues.

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Since the Baxter recall, two other smaller makers have tried to take up the slack and federal health officials believe the current supply of heparin is adequate. Reports persist, however, that hospitals are scrambling for whatever supply of the drug they can obtain and, in some cases, they are even rationing the drug. The American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists, which represents 30,000 pharmacists in hospitals and other medical facilities, has also listed heparin among the drugs in short supply.


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