With respiratory illnesses on the rise in Chicago, healthcare providers warn that medicines for children can be hard to find these days as concerned parents face empty shelves and understaffed pharmacies across the city.
“Children don’t deal with pain the way adults do,” said Gwen Smith, a mother of three from Chicago’s North Side. “It would be torture in a way to watch your child suffer if your pharmacy doesn’t have what you need.”
Smith, 33, said it’s especially hard for parents who have to waste time, gas and money looking for medicine. Given the reported cases of COVID, RSV and influenza, Smith said the lack of medicines for children reminded her of the early days of the pandemic, when parents struggled to find baby food.
Howard Bolling, an independent pharmacist who runs Roseland Pharmacy on the Far South Side, said he recently tried to order children’s amoxicillin from a wholesaler but found he couldn’t buy it at all.
Normally, Bolling said, he would order the antibiotic and have it delivered the next day. Now he said: “I couldn’t even see an availability date for it. When independent pharmacists can’t even access it, don’t even know when it’s going to be available, that’s a scary thought.”
Even if amoxicillin were available, the price is much higher and hurts families’ pockets, he added. “Instead of $1.89 per bottle, pediatric amoxicillin is now $29.89 per bottle,” Bolling said.
In addition, according to Bolling, doctors are not always aware of the bottlenecks when prescribing.
When this happens, he says, parents must either visit another pharmacy or go back and forth between doctors and pharmacists to find an alternative drug, causing delay for healthcare providers and patients — and potentially affecting patient care.
Chain pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens say rising demand for drugs like Tylenol for children, amoxicillin and Tamiflu has sometimes led to empty shelves.
A Walgreen representative confirmed that “inventory is moving fast.” But Marty Maloney, in an email to The Sun-Times, said the chain has been able to stock medicines.
“Despite increased demand as a result of the severe cold and respiratory virus season this year, Walgreens remains able to meet customer needs,” said Maloney.
A spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration said the agency has identified shortages and is working with manufacturers and retailers.
Sterling Elliott, a clinical pharmacist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said addiction to alternative medicines can also create shortages.
“Pharmacies have to constantly figure out what our strategy is to deal with any shortages,” Elliott said. “So a shortage of one remedy can lead to a shortage of another remedy that is supposed to be the alternative.”
Doctors should prescribe drugs as wisely as possible, he said. Elliott advised consumers to purchase over-the-counter medicines within reasonable limits and avoid hoarding.
“Drug shortages have plagued this country across the board for years, and now it’s really hitting home because it’s young children who are hit in the grocery store and pharmacy aisles,” Elliott said. “By and large, the problem has remained very constant and very persistent.”