A mysterious shortage of a popular thyroid medication has left patients feeling miserable, frightened and angry.
Nobody seems to know why the company that produces Armour Thyroid suddenly stopped making it last fall, and nobody knows when it will be available again.
In the meantime, patients who relied on the natural hormone therapy to help regulate their bodies’ most basic functions are scrambling to find an alternative.
“This is a big mess,” said Dr. Roberta Bourgon, a naturopath who practices at Billings Clinic. “The unfortunate thing is, no one is informing the consumers, and patients are being left out in the cold.”
Bourgon and other physicians prescribed Armour Thyroid to treat hypothyroidism, a condition that occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce the right amount of hormones.
“The thyroid is the most important gland in the body because it regulates metabolism,” said Dr. Margaret Beeson, a naturopath at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic in Billings.
Achy joints, hair loss, weight gain, heart palpitations, sluggishness and depression are all associated with hypothyroidism.
Armour Thyroid was the first drug to combat hypothyroidism, Beeson said. It was developed in the early 1900s.
It contains two natural thyroid hormones taken from pigs and works better for many patients than do synthetic alternatives that contain only one of the hormones.
Pharmacies began running out of Armour Thyroid months ago, and two natural alternatives, Nature-throid and Westhroid, also quickly became difficult to find.
“Imagine the cruelty of feeling good and knowing that’s not going to be possible anymore,” Bourgon said.
Neither Forest Pharmaceuticals, the company that manufactures Armour, nor the Food and Drug Administration will say what is causing the delay, but it is not an ingredient shortage.
Compounding pharmacies have been able to order the powdered pig hormone and use it to make an Armour substitute.
“I’m getting calls from all over the state,” said Mark Jurovich, a pharmacist at Juro’s Home Medical-Pharmacy, which compounds medications.
The Juro’s Armour substitute costs about three times as much as Armour did.
“It’s not a generic for the missing product, but we can make it the same strength and with the same active ingredient,” Jurovich said. “We’ve had a lot of people say they feel good on it.”
Even patients who do well on a synthetic or compounded form of the drug can face weeks of misery as their bodies adjust to the change.
“It’s a long time out of your life to have to go backwards,” said Kathy Bick, a Billings woman who has taken Armour Thyroid for 10 years.
Bick, 46, was losing her hair, having heart palpitations and suffering from achy joints when she began taking the drug. A distance runner with two young children, Bick cannot imagine feeling that way again.
“I called every pharmacy in town, and I found enough (Armour) to get me through the year,” she said. “I’m hoping that within a year we’ll know something.”