So far, patients in small-town hospitals and those enrolled in
clinical trials seem the hardest hit. Small town hospitals lack the
buying power of larger hospitals. This can force patients or family
members to drive to larger towns or cities to get the medicine they
need. And patients in clinical trials are usually forbidden to switch to
an alternate drug if there's a shortage of the trial drug.
Cancer patients also have been hard hit. About 10 percent of the drugs on
the shortage list are cancer drugs. Substitution of one cancer drug for
another often means taking a considerably less effective drug or one
with much stronger side effects.
All these shortages have caused prices of some drugs to soar.
According to an August article in the New York Times, one hospital
buying cooperative received hundreds of offers from obscure drug
wholesalers in April and May to sell drugs at exorbitant prices. Around
45 percent of these were at 10 times or more a drug's normal price and 27 percent were
at 20 times or more the normal price. Harry Lime would be proud.
Several solutions have been proposed to help ease the shortages.
Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would require drug
manufacturers to notify the FDA six months before discontinuing
production of a drug. This should allow the FDA to better track, manage, and possibly prevent future drug shortages. But some drug manufacturers
and distributors have expressed skepticism at this. They claim that the
cost of complying with recent FDA regulations was what caused them to
stop manufacturing these drugs in the first place, because it made them
Several U.S. companies now produce their drugs in plants in China and
India, plants that may not be using adequate manufacturing standards
and may never be inspected. Another proposal before Congress would
allocate nearly $300 million for inspection of foreign drug plants. This
will hopefully lower contamination problems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already stockpiles
antibiotics, antidotes, and other drugs needed in the event of a
nationwide natural or man-made disaster. A recent proposal would add
cancer medicines to the stockpile.
And a group of oncologists has started a non-profit drug company that
it hopes will soon be able to import some cancer medicines that are
currently in short supply and eventually be able to manufacture them.
This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com.