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Medicine scarce in Billings due to shortages as flu season hits

Posted at 8:21 AM, Nov 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-29 10:21:48-05

Flu season has officially made its way to Montana, and this year it's even more frightening because many over-the-counter medications are unavailable due to shortages.

If you visit just about any pharmacy in Billings, you'll see an alarming sight — empty shelves where flu and cold medicine is supposed to live.

For parents in the area like Kaneesha Beeman, it is alarming and really bad timing.

“We see this huge influx with the flu and there’s never any meds when we need them,” Beeman said Monday.

Beeman also works as a teacher, and she knows firsthand just how important it is that medicine is available this time of the year.

“We need them in school, and I need my kids in school so staying healthy is the most important thing," Beeman said.

Unfortunately, right now options are limited. Kyle Austin, owner of Billings-based Pharm406, has witnessed the dilemma firsthand.

“There’s a nationwide shortage caused from delays in manufacturing," Austin said. "There’s a very big uptick in need across the nation. Probably once an hour we’ll get a phone call for liquid amoxicillin for a kid, and we have to have that conversation with the doctor, ‘hey, this isn’t available, what else is available?’”

It's a big problem that Austin projects will continue to take its toll throughout the most important time of year — flu season.

“They need the medication now, if they get sick," Austin said. "The FDA has no turnaround time when this will be resolved."

Austin credits the problem to America being too reliant on foreign manufacturers, and it's led him to asking serious questions about the current system in place.

“What can we do long-term to make sure this doesn’t happen again?" Austin said. "Do we bring manufacturing back to the United States and we make these products here?”

Pharm406 is still doing what it can to provide options for children by using adult capsules and diluting them into smaller doses. Although the process has become more time-consuming for the employees, Austin said it's worth it.

“If you have a sick kid and we don’t have the antibiotic, then that infection is going to get worse, worse, and worse," Austin said. "It’s very important that we get this resolved."

There are also preventative options. MTN spoke with Beeman outside RiverStone Health right after she had taken her son to get his flu shot.

“We’re being preventative so that we don’t have to rely on getting meds,” Beeman said.