Fear in US as drug shortages mount

by Jean-Louis Santini

Shortages of vital drugs, particularly cancer-fighting medication, have raised concerns in the United States, where regulators often have to race to try to find replacements.

A recent report by the (FDA) found that the number of important treatments that are difficult or impossible to find nearly tripled from 61 to 178 between 2005 and 2010.

Most of the rare medications are for hospital use, including sterile injections, intravenous treatments, and antibiotics. The products include both name-brand and generic drugs.

"FDA hears from patients and also from and organizations about the terrible impact the shortages have had," spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said.

"We continue to do all we can under our current authority to address shortages when they occur."

The FDA's efforts are hindered, however, because it cannot force private to produce certain drugs or even require them to notify the agency when they plan to discontinue one, Burgess said.

In 2010 it was able to avert 38 shortages, mainly by persuading other manufacturers to produce the drugs or helping to resolve production issues.

But a survey of 820 hospitals carried out in June by the American Hospital Association found that almost all had run out of an important drug over the past six months.

Eighty-percent said they had to delay patient treatments because of scarcity, and 70 percent said they administered less effective treatments.

"We really need to take a very careful look at what is going on. I have never seen anything like this and I have been a for over 40 years," says Mike Cohen, a pharmacist at the non-profit Safe .

The group recently surveyed 1,800 and found that a third of doctors and a fifth of pharmacists were aware of adverse reactions in their patients -- including deaths -- because of .

Cynthia Reilly of the American Society of Health System Pharmacists says the "dramatic increase" in shortages is in part due to "quality issues."

"In a lot of instances the manufacturer is either having problems with the production lines or perhaps they found particular products in vials so they have to do a recall," she said.

Reilly fears the shortages will worsen as the pharmaceutical industry continues to consolidate, and as more companies stop producing because they are less profitable.

"A few years ago five companies were making a similar product. Now there is only one or two... There are not a lot of companies to fill the gap," she said.

She and other advocates believe new legislation to allow the FDA to force companies to alert it six months in advance of closing a production line would be helpful, as it would give the agency more time to find a substitute.

Two bills with broad support are currently under discussion in Congress.

Another problem is the so-called "gray market," whereby distributors scoop up rare drugs and then charge hospitals exorbitant rates for them. Some drugs can fetch up to 1,000 times the normal price.

"We tell our members to contact their state attorney general. Unfortunately there is opportunity for unscrupulous behavior," Reilly said.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US drug supplies run short, endangering patients

Aug 19, 2011

Monika McBride has acute myeloid leukemia, a life-threatening blood cancer that requires six months of intensive chemotherapy. Three days before her third treatment, however, a nurse called to cancel her appointment: Her ...

Hospitals hunt substitutes as drug shortages rise

May 30, 2011

(AP) -- A growing shortage of medications for a host of illnesses - from cancer to cystic fibrosis to cardiac arrest - has hospitals scrambling for substitutes to avoid patient harm, and sometimes even delaying treatment.

FDA cracks down on untested cold medicines

Mar 02, 2011

(AP) -- The Food and Drug Administration says it will remove roughly 500 unapproved cold and allergy medications from the market as part of an ongoing campaign cracking down on ineffective prescription medications.

Recommended for you

Determine patient preferences by means of conjoint analysis

Jul 29, 2014

The Conjoint Analysis (CA) method is in principle suitable to find out which preferences patients have regarding treatment goals. However, to widely use it in health economic evaluations, some (primarily methodological) issues ...

FDA approves hard-to-abuse narcotic painkiller

Jul 25, 2014

(HealthDay)—A new formulation of a powerful narcotic painkiller that discourages potential abusers from snorting or injecting the drug has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Race affects opioid selection for cancer pain

Jul 25, 2014

(HealthDay)—Racial disparities exist in the type of opioid prescribed for cancer pain, according to a study published online July 21 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

FDA approves tough-to-abuse formulation of oxycodone

Jul 25, 2014

(HealthDay)—Targiniq ER (oxycodone hydrochloride and naloxone hydrochloride extended release) has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a long-term, around-the-clock treatment for severe ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Vendicar_Decarian
4.3 / 5 (4) Sep 04, 2011
Bush accused of pressuring countries to stop producing generic drugs

http://www.ncbi.n...C487728/

Bush Signed Law Blocking Generic Drug

Campaign: Texas was one of just three states to make it harder for doctors to prescribe cheaper blood-thinner.

http://articles.l...mn-38364

douglaskostyk
5 / 5 (1) Sep 04, 2011
frajo
5 / 5 (2) Sep 06, 2011
A definite failure of the Free Market model.