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People’s Pharmacy: Cardiologist complains about critical drug shortage

UPDATED: Wed., May 25, 2022

A woman undergoes a CT scan at Carolina Blood and Cancer Care in Lancaster, S.C., where she was receiving treatment for breast cancer in July.  (Washington Post)
A woman undergoes a CT scan at Carolina Blood and Cancer Care in Lancaster, S.C., where she was receiving treatment for breast cancer in July. (Washington Post)
By Joe Graedon, M.S., and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D. King Features Syndicate

Q. As a cardiologist, I am outraged that there is a critical shortage of contrast media for heart CT scans. We use this during coronary angiograms to visualize arteries and see where there may be blockages. It tells whether a patient needs surgery or stents and also helps us see if there are blood clots in the lungs.

All of these require urgent treatment, so not having contrast puts lives at risk. A country that can’t manage access to such essential medications is sick!

A. The U.S. is highly dependent on foreign suppliers for indispensable medical supplies, including the iodine solution that provides contrast on CT scans. In the most recent shortage, a factory in Shanghai, China, shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19. As a result, hospitals in the U.S. are running out.

Unfortunately, drug shortages are not rare events. Even before the pandemic, many health care systems reported difficulties accessing critical medications. Without significant changes in the way we manage our supply chains, shortages are likely to continue.

Q. I’ve been dealing with what I thought were fungal infections on three toes for about four years now. No matter what topical antifungal treatment I used, over-the-counter or prescription, the nails did not improve.

I saw an article in your newsletter about bacterial nail infections. That made sense to me since it explains why antifungals may fail.

I began using Neosporin on all three toenails. Their appearance has improved greatly. I’m seeing clear pink under the nails where there used to be cloudy white patches. For me, this is a real game changer!

A. We were surprised to read that some nail infections are caused by bacteria as well as fungi (Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, March 1, 2021). That could help explain why nail infections may persist despite treatment with antifungal medications. Other readers have also reported success with the antibiotic cream Neosporin.

Q. You provided a link on your website to a heart risk calculator. I checked it out and discovered, based on my age alone, that I have a high calculated risk for heart disease over the next 10 years. The calculator suggests that I should “consider being on a moderate intensity statin.”

My total cholesterol is 132, LDL is 58 and good HDL is 51. The ratio is 2.6. Triglycerides are less than 100. As I understand it, these numbers could hardly be better. I do not have diabetes, and my blood pressure is controlled with valsartan. Does this mean that anyone older than age 63 needs to take a statin regardless of cholesterol, diet, exercise or anything else for that matter?

A. The American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association risk calculator encourages all older Americans to take statins regardless of cholesterol levels. Your doctor should evaluate your need for preventive treatment based on a complete assessment of your overall health.

A recent analysis concluded that “the absolute risk reductions of treatment with statins in terms of all-cause mortality, myocardial infarction and stroke are modest” (JAMA Internal Medicine, May 1). To learn more about ways to protect your heart, you may wish to read our revised eGuide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health. This online resource is available under the Health eGuides tab at peoplespharmacy.com.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website peoplespharmacy.com. They are the authors of “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”

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