The patient was found by paramedics and rushed to the hospital. He had taken over 80 aspirin tablets of 500 mg each — more than enough to be lethal. The ER staff prepared to administer the standard treatment for aspirin poisoning: sodium bicarbonate. Yes, this is the same stuff seen in movies that anxious characters take to relieve stomach upset and is followed by a burp. Chemically it's a simple, inexpensive medication and has been used for decades. In this case, the bicarbonate is a sterile solution given intravenously. But when the order was sent to the hospital pharmacy, the answer came back that there was no bicarbonate solution available. The only alternative would be to begin emergency dialysis, a far more expensive and risky procedure.
In the Maryland legislature we heard this story from a physician
practicing at a university teaching hospital. In answer to an urgent
distress call to nearby hospitals, a few vials were located and used to
save the patient.
Stories like this are common throughout the nation as a crisis in
medication shortage continues to expand. Basic medications are missing:
injectable generics like epinephrine (for severe allergic reactions and cardiac resuscitation), Compazine (relief of nausea and vomiting), Novocain (local anesthesia), Ativan (seizure control).