Heart & chemotherapy patients impacted by shortage of sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda

Posted at 6:00 AM, May 31, 2017

A serious nationwide shortage of a common household chemical compound is prompting doctors to delay treatments and surgeries. Locally, the lack of baking powder is causing medical professionals to keep a close eye on the supply at hand.

"There should be a level of outrage across the country," said Dr. Shawn Osborne, assistant vice president for pharmacy services and supply chain at University Hospitals. "This is a nationwide, impactful situation."

The drug is sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda. The medical-grade version of it is often used in heart surgeries and as buffering agent to keep blood levels in check for chemotherapy patients.

"It's not the first time we've had a shortage with sodium bicarbonate," added Osborne. "But it's certainly one of the most recent and significant ones that we've had."

Osborne said the problem is a manufacturing issue combined with the consolidation of drug companies. 

"I think the public should be concerned about how delicate our supply chain is for medicine," he added.

Drug manufacturing giant Pfizer addressed the problem in a recent letter to its customers, obtained by News 5.

It states: "products will continue to recover through the summer, with many products fully recovered by 4Q17" (fourth quarter of the year 2017).

Providence Hospital in Mobile, Ala. recently had to postpone seven open-heart surgeries due to the sodium bicarbonate shortage.

Osborne said patients at University Hospitals have not been affected by the shortage. But he and others are keenly monitoring the situation because he said the back-up option for sodium bicarbonate, which offers much of the same benefits to patients, is also in very short supply.

The Cleveland Clinic and St. Vincent Charity Medical Center said they are unaffected by the problem. MetroHealth Medical Center did not respond to News 5's questions.