Saline solution is now rationed out by its three manufacturers after hospitals found themselves overwhelmed by dehydrated patients with the flu this past January. Since then, hospitals have been scrambling to find ways to procure more saline solution.
…It’s difficult to ramp up production, explains Capt. Valerie Jensen, the director of the drug shortage program at the Food and Drug Administration.
“To make one of these drugs is very complex, even though the drug itself is simple,” she says. “It takes about three weeks to make one batch of normal saline from start to finish.”
She says it’s challenging to make sure saline products are sterile. If you swallow a pill with a little bit of dirt on it, you’ll probably be fine. But contaminated saline injected into your vein could cause a big problem.
That’s why the FDA sets strict quality standards for the facilities that manufacture saline and other IV drugs, but the agency has to find a delicate balance between safety and supply.
Manufacturers find this FDA standard to be “onerous” and meddlesome. They believe that the FDA played a part in creating this saline shortage.
In response to the shortage, Fox News reports that the FDA has temporarily approved overseas manufacturers to help with the saline crisis.
Hospitals around the country are locked in contracts with saline manufacturers, which means that the price will keep steady. However, there is a high probability that in two to three years — when their contracts expire, saline prices will skyrocket, causing hospitals to pay more than double what they’re paying now.