High Blood Pressure Sufferers Wonder Why A Needed Drug is Suddenly in Short Supply

October 05, 2017 06:24 PM

A St. Paul woman wonders why she hasn't been able to get a straight answer when it comes to the reason behind a shortage of the medicine she said she counts on to survive.

Judith Hazen had tried a dozen other high blood pressure medicines that either caused her blood pressure to skyrocket, or made her eyes and throat to swell up. Atenolol is the only drug to which she has not had an adverse reaction.


But a couple of months ago, her pharmacy said it could not fill her prescription of Atenolol because of a shortage.

"I have seriously high blood pressure," she said. "I've trusted my life with this medication! I've been taking it for 20 years!

"How you can run out of the materials to make this medication? It's been around forever! How can you run out of those ingredients?"

University of Minnesota pharmaceutical economics professor Dr. Stephen Schondelmeyer said there are a handful of companies actively making and selling Atenolol. 

Approximately two months ago, most of them notified the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that they couldn't get their hands on the active ingredient used to make the drug.

But Schondelmeyer said not all of them.

"One of the companies didn't have that problem, and didn't notify the FDA of that," he said. "But (instead) they notified the FDA that they were experiencing an increase in demand.

"The price went up twice before July 31 - just before the shortages got reported. So that's a bit fishy.

"Why would suddenly four or five companies not be able to get the active ingredient to make the product? The one company - who still is able to make and sell the product in the marketplace - triples its price. What's going on? How did this happen?"

Schondelmeyer said experts are working to find out if there was collusion, or anything illegal going on. 

But he said people like Hazen will likely - potentially soon - see the supply of Atenolol go back to where it was.

Not yet though. Several local pharmacies report currently not having the drug in stock.

Schondelmeyer said the price of the generic version went from about $3 to approximately $13 for a bottle of 100 pills. A brand-name version - Tenormin - costs $550 for the same amount of pills.

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled data on U.S. states and territories regarding hypertension. The following data (ordered by the percentage of adults told they have high blood pressure) is adjusted for age distribution of the population and because the data comes from a survey, the CDC also assigned a level of error.

State/Territory Adults Told They Have High Blood Pressure(%) Adults Told They Do Not Have High Blood Pressure (%)
Mississippi 39.9 60.1
Puerto Rico 39.4 60.6
West Virginia 38.4 61.6
Alabama 37.2 62.7
Louisiana 37.3 62.7
Arkansas 36.3 63.7
Kentucky 36.0 64.0
Tennessee 35.3 64.7
Georgia 34.8 65.2
South Carolina 34.6 65.4
Oklahoma 33.8 66.2
North Carolina 32.4 67.6
Guam 31.7 98.3
Virginia 31.4 68.6
Missouri 31.3 68.7
District of Columbia 31.1 68.9
Ohio 31.1 68.9
Delaware 31 69
Maryland 30.3 69.7
Indiana 29.9 70.1
Michigan 29.9 70.1
Hawaii 29.8 70.2
Kansas 29.5 70.5
Idaho 29.3 70.7
Florida 29.2 70.8
Rhode Island 29.2 70.8
Texas 29.1 70.9
Maine 29.0 71.0
Pennsylvania 28.9 71.1
North Dakota 28.8 71.2
Illinois 28.6 71.4
Arizona 28.5 71.5
Alaska 28.0 72.0
New Jersey 28.0 72.0
Washington 27.9 72.1
Wyoming 27.9 72.1
Nebraska 27.7 72.3
California 27.6 72.4
Iowa 27.6 72.4
New Mexico 27.5 72.5
Oregon 27.3 72.7
South Dakota 27.3 72.7
Massachusetts 27.1 72.9
Connecticut 27.0 73.0
New York 27.0 73.0
Wisconsin 26.7 73.3
Nevada 26.5 73.5
Montana 25.7 74.3
New Hampshire 25.7 74.3
Vermont 25.6 74.4
Colorado 24.8 75.2
Utah 24.8 75.2
Minnesota 24.2 75.8



Brandi Powell Rebecca Omastiak

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