Real World Problems

Rich Galen

9/28/2012 9:59:00 AM - Rich Galen
Living and working in Your Nation's Capital I forget, sometimes, that grand issues are fun to debate on CNN or MSNBC, but real people deal with real issues.

At a fundraiser for Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Oh) last night, I heard from a nurse anesthetist that there is a continuing shortage of the basic drug she uses to put people to sleep for surgery. And that when they have the drug it often has a label written in some language other than English, and that the efficacy of the drugs is not constant.

"What should take one stick," she said, "based upon the patient's size and weight, "can sometimes take two or three sticks."

According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine,

Recently, the supply of one drug - the sterile injectable drug propofol, a fast-onset, short-acting sedative-hypnotic agent used for the induction and maintenance of anesthesia or sedation - has become critically low.

Which I provide to you as evidence that the nurse anesthetist was not making this up.

Seems that a combination of problems in the manufacture of propofol - which has a fairly long manufacturing lead time - plus the drug having come off patent and therefore is far less profitable have led to this situation.

Who knew?

A man complained that one of the two Manganese Ferro Alloy plants in the United States is located in Marietta, Ohio and is being threatened with shut-down because new regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency are impossible for the plant to meet.

SIDEBAR

One of the smartest parenting decisions I ever made came about when The Lad - then about nine - asked if I knew everything.

"I know 80 percent of everything," I said, thus providing myself with a cushion of non-knowledge that has stood me in good stead for lo these many ensuing years.

END SIDEBAR

It will not surprise you to find out that Manganese Ferro Alloys (and, for that matter the supply chain of propofol) are part of the 20 percent I know nothing about.

However, people involved in making the stuff do and it seems that Manganese Ferro Alloys are to steel as flour is to bread.

Not only that, but guess which country is the world's largest maker of the stuff?

Keerekt. China.

Thus, shutting down the only two plants making these alloys in the United States would do what?

Keerekt again. Shift jobs from Ohio and West Virginia (where the other plant is located) to China. Solely due to regulations based, according to this guy, on bad science.

Not every local issue is life-and-death, or hundreds of jobs. A woman who has been working on her kid's homecoming float complained that there is a shortage of helium and so the whole balloon motif had to be scrapped.

Helium is one of the most common elements in the universe. Too bad, then that the helium needed for homecoming float balloons doesn't come from the universe; it mostly comes as the result of natural gas production and most of that comes from natural gas produced in Texas that has high concentrations of helium.

It will not surprise you to learn that the shortage in helium - which is also used, according to Popular Mechanics Magazine, in in cryogenics, high-energy accelerators, arc welding, cooling MRI magnets, and silicon wafer manufacturing - is due to the Federal government manipulating how much there is and how much what there is should cost.

Another portion of my 20% ignorance allowance went into this, but there is a good article on the Secret Decoder Ring if you're interested.

These were just three of the issues raised to Congressman Johnson during the course of one dinner.

I don't expect the shortage of anesthetics and helium, nor the state of worldwide Manganese Ferro Alloy production to be part of the list of questions Jim Lehrer is building for the debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney next Wednesday night.

But, for the folks at that dinner these are real problems that may or may not have a federal solution.

In any event, it was a good reminder that getting out of the Beltway Bubble on a regular basis is a good idea to find out what everyday Americans - the people the two Presidential campaigns claim to be so concerned about - are dealing with every day.