Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Drug Shortage Update Affecting a Lot of the Ex-Code Drugs

Today’s drug shortage update from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) includes a lot of drugs that used to be routine drugs for cardiac arrest.

Once upon a time, I was a code drug.

Atropine is the most recent drug to be dumped by the AHA (American Heart Association). In the past week, two manufacturers have stated that they have atropine available. FDA Update.

It was nice to see the AHA admit that there is not a good reason to keep treating every PEA (Pulseless Electrical Activity) or asystole patient with a drug that has never had good evidence that it improves survival. The next revision of the ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) guidelines will provide more opportunity to get rid of some drugs that are routinely used for cardiac arrest, even though there is no evidence that they improve survival – lidocaine (farther down on this list), amiodarone, and the everybody’s favorite drug to not improve survival – epinephrine (also farther down on the list).

Calcium Chloride has increased availability from one manufacturer, but decreased availability from another. Calcium is still the best drug for hyperkalemia, but it was once used routinely in cardiac arrest, as if there has been a lot of sudden onset hypocalcemia. FDA Update.

Epinephrine 1:10,000 has not yet been dumped by the FDA, but the recent evidence suggests that we are decreasing survival by using epinephrine – and those who do survive the epinephrine are more likely to have significant brain damage. FDA Update

Tomorrow, I will be talking about the evidence for and against epinephrine at the EMS Web Summit.

Lidocaine has new manufacturing delays. Lidocaine is still just barely in the ACLS guidelines –

Amiodarone may be considered when VF/VT is unresponsive to CPR, defibrillation, and vasopressor therapy (Class IIb, LOE A). If amiodarone is unavailable, lidocaine may be considered, but in clinical studies lidocaine has not been demonstrated to improve rates of ROSC and hospital admission compared with amiodarone (Class IIb, LOE B).[1]

Maybe lidocaine is there to make amiodarone look good, because nothing else makes amiodarone look good.

For victims of witnessed VF arrest, early CPR and rapid defibrillation can significantly increase the chance for survival to hospital discharge.128,–,133 In comparison, other ACLS therapies such as some medications and advanced airways, although associated with an increased rate of ROSC, have not been shown to increase the rate of survival to hospital discharge.31,33,134,–,138 [2]

In other words, these drugs are probably only as effective as atropine, and maybe less harmful than atropine, but the AHA has not given up on them, yet. FDA Update.

Magnesium Sulfate is another once-promising code drug, now used for the ever-impressive torsades and for the less impressive hypomagnesemia. FDA Update

Sodium Bicarbonate used to be given almost as much as epinephrine.

Now, Sodium Bicarbonate is only given when it is specifically indicated – the way that real medicine should be used. 😯

Sodium Bicarbonate is second line for hyperkalemia and probably is just the hypertonic saline (5.8% saline) that is working, rather than treatment of acidosis, but acidotic patients may benefit from that, too – if they are well ventilated. Sodium Bicarbonate is CO2 in a syringe.

FDA Update.

Vasopressin is now available, again. Not useful in cardiac arrest, but we feel we need to inject something, so this permits some variety. FDA Update.

Important non-code EMS drugs on the FDA Current Drug Shortages list are:

Alfentanyl – Possibly substituting for fentanyl, but not having enough to make up for the lack of fentanyl. Probably also due to increased realization that the side effects of opioids are easily managed by competent medical personnel.

Atracurium (Tracrium).

Diazepam (Valium).


Diltiazem (Cardizem).

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

Etomidate (Amidate).

Fentanyl (Sublimaze).

Hydromorphone (Dilaudid).

Ketorolac (Toradol).

Lorazepam (Ativan).


Metoclopramide (Reglan).

Midazolam (Versed).


Multi-vitamin injection (banana bags?).

Naloxone (Narcan).


Ondansetron (Zofran).

Oxytocin (Pitocin).

Pancuronium (Pavulon).

Phentolamine (Regitine).

Procainamide (Pronestyl) – the only ventricular antiarrhythmic that works (of those commonly available in the US – [sotalol also works]).

Prochlorperazine (Compazine).

Promethazine (Phenergan)

Propofol (Diprivan).

Sufentanyl (Sufenta).

Tromethamine (Tham).

Vecuronium (Norcuron).

and something new –

Sodium Chloride 0.9% (5.8mL and 20mL) (Initial Posting Date) – 5/4/2012. FDA Update.


[1] Drug Therapy in VF/Pulseless VT
2010 American Heart Association Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care Science
Part 8: Advanced Life Support
Part 8.2: Management of Cardiac Arrest
Free Full Text from Circulation

[2] Overview
2010 American Heart Association Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care Science
Part 8: Advanced Life Support
Part 8.2: Management of Cardiac Arrest
Free Full Text from Circulation