Breakdowns in the global supply chain are hitting US ranchers and the veterinarians who serve them in the form of shortages of commonly used drugs.
In a recent Reuter’s report, Dr. Pat Gorden, associate professor of veterinary medicine at Iowa State University, the current penicillin shortage. Gorden, who is currently president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), said veterinarians are struggling to find even a few bottles of injectable Pen-G.
Debbie Regier, office manager for CountryAid Vet Service, Wichita, Kan., said she began noticing drug supply shortages on her routine orders in the fall of 2020. But the situation has worsened as the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed. Recently she has not had access to long-acting penicillin at all.
Other feedstock veterinary drugs reported to be in short supply are tetracyclines, flunixin and meloxicam. Veterinarians face an even longer list of drug shortages, including pentobarbitol, a commonly used euthanasia drug for pets and horses.
To keep abreast of changes in product offerings, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains an ongoing database of current drug shortages for medically necessary animal products. The list sometimes – but not always – includes explanations for bottlenecks and notifications when delivery issues have been resolved.
Why the bottlenecks? In many cases, veterinary medicines lose out when drugs like penicillin are used in both humans and animals. Although the formulations may not be exactly the same, the same raw materials are often used in the manufacture of both animal and human medicines.
For example, the demand for human amoxicillin has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Raw materials were diverted from the manufacture of veterinary penicillin products to increase production of amoxicillin, used to treat children’s sore throats and ear infections.
Mary van Dijk, spokeswoman for Irish veterinary drug maker Bimeda Inc., said a Chinese raw materials supplier also recently had quality issues that took about six months to resolve.
Regier said her suppliers have also cited changing manufacturing processes and labor shortages as reasons for the shortage of veterinary medicines. In addition to medication, she has difficulty accessing surgical supplies and pet food.
And there’s another veterinary drug that has become a focal point of the pandemic: ivermectin. Early news reports that Australian researchers found the long-used veterinary anthelmintic to be effective in treating COVID-19 caused a rush to the drug and stranded livestock and pet owners.
The shortage is partly due to physicians increasing legal prescriptions of humane ivermectin formulations. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded more than 88,000 human ivermectin prescriptions per week as of August 2021, compared to a pre-pandemic baseline of 3,600.
Online forums also fueled demand as people began self-medicating with ivermectin obtained through veterinary channels. A recent New York Times article cites an example of a Facebook discussion about administering ivermectin paste intended for horses to humans. The advice: “Put it on a cracker with a dab of peanut butter.”
Demand has caused both price increases and shortages for ranchers and horse owners. Last year, pet retailer Jeffers of Dothan, Alabama, raised the price of ivermectin paste from $2.99 to $6.99 per tube. A California horse breeder was told by her supplier that the ivermectin residue was so extreme that she was 600th for the next batch.
Pet owners and veterinarians, at least in the short term, are looking for alternative options when the products they have traditionally used are unavailable. Regier said her veterinary practice can almost always find an alternative treatment option, but that often comes at a higher cost to the client.
AABP President Gorden said the drug shortage has prompted veterinarians to look closely at treatment protocols and common practices. “In some cases we have looked at alternatives to therapy or had discussions about whether this treatment is really that effective or even necessary,” he said.