Here’s a shocker. There’s a shortage of yet another thing in the U.S. Add the antibiotic amoxicillin to the growing list of items that have been in short supply in 2022 that includes baby formula, lawn chairs, garage doors, butter, cream cheese, diesel fuel, and breakfast cereal. Since October 28, amoxicillin oral powder for suspension has been on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) list of drug shortages. But a shortage of a commonly-prescribed antibiotic like amoxicillin can be much more serious than not having enough lawn chairs and not having enough cream cheese to smear on those lawn chairs. It means that there may be one less option should you develop a bacterial infection in your ears, nose, throat, respiratory tract, urinary tract, or skin.
Here’s an NBC News segment on the shortage:
Now there isn’t any time of the year where you might say, “it would be really cool to have an amoxicillin shortage right now.” However, this is a particular bad time to not have enough of this penicillin-like antibiotic around. As Nina Shapiro, MD, has detailed for Forbes on November 12, the U.S. is currently experiencing a surge in respiratory illnesses, a potential “tripledemic” of three viral baddies: respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the influenza virus, and the Covid-19 coronavirus. While antibiotics like amoxicillin typically are not effective against such respiratory viruses, they can be important treatments for secondary bacterial infections that may occur when your respiratory tract defenses and immune system in general are busy battling a viral infection. Bacteria can be like those unwanted guests that show up at that gigantic rave that you are throwing for International Talk Like A Pirate Day where you are too busy tending bar, keeping things from getting our of hand, and talking like pirate so that you can’t pay enough attention to whoever may be entering your doors.
This doesn’t mean that you should take amoxicillin if you have respiratory symptoms just in case you have a bacterial infection. You shouldn’t take such antibiotics prophylactically to prevent bacterial infections either. Instead, take such antibiotics only if a medical doctor has confirmed that you do indeed have a bacterial infection. There has been far too much overuse of antibiotics with folks dishing them out as if they were little condoms or rain jackets. There’s nothing wrong with wearing a condom or rain jacket when you don’t need one such as when you are gardening while the sky is clear and you’re not having sex. It’s not as if either is going be less effective the next time around. You should never say, “well, I wore a condom last time we had sex, so I had better not wear one this time to save the condom for when we really need protection.” However, the same does not apply to taking antibiotics. Each time you take antibiotics it can alter the natural content of the good bacteria that normally should be in your body. Such good bacteria can play crucial roles in your body, ranging from helping with the proper digestion of food to maintaining the optimal pH in your vagina. Taking antibiotics can also lead to more antibiotic-resistant bacteria being around. And while fascism-resistance is typically a good thing, antibiotic-resistance is not. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be a lot harder to treat and potentially kill you, which, by the way, would be a bad thing.
The current surge in respiratory illnesses could be contributing to the current shortage of amoxicillin as well. It wouldn’t be surprising if doctors and other health professionals were improperly prescribing amoxicillin for RSV, influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and other respiratory virus infections. That’s because health professionals have been freaking overwhelmed, especially recently with the Covid-19 pandemic, which incidentally is still happening. When doctors have only 15 minutes to see you and don’t get paid for answering calls in the middle of the night, they may be inclined to just write you a prescription for an antibiotics rather than go through the additional effort and testing needed to determine whether you really have a bacterial infection. Again, taking antibiotics when you don’t really need them can unnecessarily mess around with the good bacteria in your body and increase your risk of subsequently getting an infection with bacteria that can resist antibiotic treatment.
That’s why it’s so important to finish your prescribed course of amoxicillin should you really have a bacterial infection in your body. Antibiotics aren’t like Tylenol, ibuprofen, or mac and cheese. You shouldn’t stop taking it as soon as you feel better. Instead, take amoxicillin exactly as directed by your doctor, your pharmacist, and the label on your package. No, not that package, but the packaging material that came with the antibiotics. The typical course of amoxicillin is one dose every 12 hours or every eight hours, depending on the dose, for five to 10 days, depending on how complicated and severe the infection may be.
Now the liquid suspension form of amoxicillin is not the only possible version of the antibiotic. Typically, such a suspension is used for those who may have difficulty swallowing a capsule or chewing a tablet. This includes young children who don’t quite have the when and how to chew and swallow things down pat yet. So not being able to find the oral powder for suspension doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t find other versions of amoxicillin. But it certainly doesn’t bode well for our overall supply of the antibiotic right now.
The Covid-19 pandemic has really exposed how vulnerable and bleepy (which is a technical term for poopy) many of our product supply chains have become. This year, 2022, has simply continued a trend that started in early 2020 with the shortage of toilet paper. You could fill a house with the things that have been in short supply during the pandemic, except that you might not really be able to fill a house because you couldn’t actually get enough of such things. Some of these things like jigsaw puzzles and kettlebells may have not been that essential. There probably aren’t too many situations where you urgently need a kettlebell. However, shortages of antibiotics like amoxicillin are a lot more serious. There shouldn’t be resistance to taking a closer look and potentially overhauling many of our supply chains because shortages of amoxicillin can lead to the unnecessary use of more powerful antibiotics that could lead to even more antibiotic resistance.