CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A vital medication that helps the most vulnerable babies is in shortage across the nation and Charleston Area Medical Center's Women and Children's Hospital is feeling the effects.
An intravenous solution of trace elements -- made up of four minerals -- is similar to a multivitamin. It contains zinc, copper, manganese and chromium, and it is that specific combination that's in short supply.
It is administered to babies in the neonatal intensive care unit who are unable to breastfeed or consume formula. The trace elements supply the baby's daily nutrition.
Healthy newborns do not need trace elements, as they are able to get it from breast milk or formula.
"Unfortunately, there is only one manufacturer for the combination product, which is what we use," said Jennifer Gorrell, the director of pharmacy at Women and Children's Hospital.
"It's unclear as to why they're not manufacturing the product anymore. They don't have any in the supply chain, and there is no release date for when they'll produce again."
Gorrell said hospital officials have been dealing with the shortage for several months and realized it would be a long-term problem in February or March.
"Over the past two to three years, it's unfortunately been a trend with medications," Gorrell said. "This is just another shortage we're dealing with. Hundreds of drugs are on the shortage list, and this is one ... We deal with this every day, and we continue to deal.
"We do everything we can to take care of our patients in light of drug shortages," she said. "We have taken measures to conserve what drugs we have and provide to the sickest of sick -- and those tend to be areas in the NICU."
While the hospital prefers to use the combination product that has all four minerals, Gorrell said a six-month supply of each individual component has been secured for future use.
Gorrell said the hospital cannot secure much more than that because of the product expiration dates. Officials also don't want to cause a shortage of the individual components, or take them away from another hospital that may need the medication immediately.
"The convenience of having all four in one product is beneficial," Gorrell said. "But the four individual components are sometimes difficult to obtain. We haven't had that issue yet ... but it's impossible to predict which drugs will and will not be on shortage. There is a concern. But it's something we worry about and face every day."