Stockpiled drugs can get extended shelf life

Since 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services have maintained a network of warehouses to store medicines and supplies that can be distributed, if needed, during natural disasters, large outbreaks of illnesses or infectious disease, terrorist attacks and at such large national events as the Super Bowland the Olympics. The supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile range from run-of-the-mill antibiotics to human plasma.

“We hold unique pharmaceutical products not available anywhere else,” said Greg Burel, the director of the stockpile. “Our supplies are multifaceted and designed for all disasters.” For example, the SNS shipped out 11.5 million doses of antiviral drugs, 25 million respirators and 20 million pieces of protective equipment during the H1N1 flu outbreak. “Push packages” containing medication, antidotes and other supplies were sent to disaster relief workers in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

Push packages are intended to be delivered less than 12 hours after the federal government approves a request, Burel said. “Chem packs,” which include antidotes to nerve agents, are stored locally by public and private organizations to ensure that they are delivered even more quickly. “Ninety-two percent of the American population lives within 30 minutes of a chem pack,” Burel said.

Strategic stockpile supplies are monitored constantly by remote sensors. “If there is a change in temperature or if products have been moved or opened, we check it out,” Burel said. When a quantity of a drug expires, a sample might be sent to the FDA for retesting. “For certain material we hold, the Department of Defense and the FDA have a shelf-life extension program,” Burel said. “If it is cost-effective, we place the [expired] material in a separate place in the warehouse and then send it to the FDA. They do the testing and tell us what date to extend it to.”

Laura Hambleton