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Serious Medicine Crash Update--Hospitals running out of Serious Medicine

Posted Feb 20 2011 8:20pm
Hospitals across the country are running out of key drugs used in surgeries and to treat some diseases, including cancer, causing doctors to turn to older treatments.  In some cases, hospitals are paying higher prices to get their patients necessary care because wholesalers are hoarding needed medicines.  . . . 

"These are the worst shortages I have ever seen," said Thomas Wheeler, a hospital pharmacist for three decades and director of pharmacy for Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center on Chicago’s North Side. "The most troubling aspect is that it is critical drugs for which there are limited alternatives. Many are involved in cancer care and surgery." 

There are about 150 drugs — triple the number from just five years ago — that are in short supply, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, a trade group that works with hospital pharmacists on ways to deal with the shortage.

Next, reporter Japsen outlines some of the problems.  As might be expected for any complicated event, there's more than one possible cause: 

Drugmakers say they are obliging tougher safety rules put in place by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has intensified scrutiny to avoid allowing unsafe medicines on the market. The FDA came under fire for its role in monitoring the blockbuster pain pill Vioxx, which was pulled off the market in 2004 by its manufacturer, Merck & Co., after the drug was linked to heart attacks and strokes.  

The drug shortage is being exacerbated by consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry, which leaves fewer companies making drugs. For example, Teva Pharmaceuticals Ltd. makes generic forms of certain cancer medications. So when quality issues temporarily closed its plant in Irvine, Calif., in April, medical professionals were faced with limited supplies of an array of cancer drugs.

As noted, the Obama administration seems to be AWOL, at least as far as this story is concerned, but some politicians are taking notice: 

The drug shortages have gained the attention of members of Congress. Last week, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Bob Casey, D-Pa., introduced legislation that would require drugmakers to give the FDA an early notification "when a factor arises that may result in a shortage," according to a joint statement.

"Several major hospitals in our state have experienced shortages that are jeopardizing patient care, and this bill will provide the knowledge required to help address and prevent future shortages," Casey said. "Knowledge is one of the most important tools for combating problems associated with drug shortages, which are a growing threat to public health in Pennsylvania and across the U.S."

We might note that Sens. Klobuchar don't seem to be offering any solution--they just want to be notified.  
That might be the beginning of a good response, but for now, all we know is that while Uncle Sam was busy trying to assure that everyone in the country had insurance, the supply of drugs was faltering.  As noted here at Serious Medicine many times, there's not much point to insurance if there aren't drugs and other kinds of treatments and therapies to consume. 

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