Back in 2011, the company that manufactures the drug we use to treat a heartworm infection in dogs stopped making the product. The factory was old and couldn’t meet quality standards, so the FDA stepped in and recommended shutdown. I found out from an interesting article that the factory is owned by a different pharmaceutical company than the one that owns the rights to the drug.
The resulting shortage led to a situation where veterinarians have to call the company that markets the drug (Merial) if we diagnose a dog with heartworm disease. They determine if that patient is eligible for treatment with the medication. A very small supply of the drug is being imported from Europe with FDA consent. Yes, you read that properly. Our federal regulatory agency is allowing a small amount of the drug to be imported by the company for sale here in the US so that we can treat the dogs that come up positive for heartworm.
A few reasonably obvious questions come up when we consider this situation.
Why are so many companies failing to produce the medications we need?
Why are many of these drugs produced in only ONE facility in the whole country?
Why is the FDA apparently cracking down on these factories?
Why can’t we import more of the drug?
What alternatives do we have?
Truth be told, I’m not certain of the FDA’s grounds for cracking down on these companies. I’d think it was with the intent of keeping the safety and efficacy of our drugs intact. That’s a good thing. It’s also scary. How long has substandard production been going on? I can only suppose the reasons for one facility being the sole production site.
This whole situation is a real bear. We’ve struggled at Pet Authority to keep stock of some of our most important drugs so we can treat our patients. I can think of four drugs in addition to the heartworm treatment medication that have simply been unavailable at some point in the last 2 years. It’s maddening. There’s nothing we can do about it.
Well, that may not be entirely true. There’s one drug shortage that wouldn’t affect our clients and patients much at all. How much need would there be for the medication used to treat a full heartworm infection if pets were protected by monthly prevention? Almost none.
Year-round prevention is the best way to keep your pet from ever needing to be treated for heartworm disease. There are enough products out there with nearly 100% efficacy that even if one or more becomes unavailable, there are alternatives that will get you through.
Stated more simply: heartworm disease is preventable.
I’ve lectured and guilt-tripped and begged and advised, but still, owners simply choose to stop giving prevention. I see at least one dog every day that I practice that has not been given prevention monthly. Often, missed doses are during the height of the summertime mosquitos; the highest risk. I just don’t get it.
The mystery of drug shortages is an opportunity to look at how our behavior influences the lives of our pets. The choices we make are a much more direct way to influence wellness.
Prevention over cure.