Shortages of Critical Drugs Becoming Worse

Today’s New York Times has a good (and scary) article reporting that essential drugs are becoming scarce or simply unavailable:

Drug Scarcity’s Dire Cost, and Some Ways to Cope. New York Times, by Roni Caryn Rabin. Tuesday, November 13, 2011. When Jenny Morrill, who has been battling ovarian cancer since 2007, went to the hospital for her scheduled chemotherapy treatment in June, the nurse greeted her with both good news and bad.

“She said, ‘The good news is that you’re doing really well on this drug Doxil. The bad news is that we have no Doxil to give you,’ ” said Ms. Morrill, 55. “My jaw dropped.”

The problem arises, in large part, from over-consolidation in the drug market, mostly for generics. With just one or two firms supplying a drug, any problem can cut off supply of a critical drug like Doxil. Substitutes often cost more, and may be unfamiliar to doctors and hospital staff, increasing the risk of medication error. Shortages also open the door to price-gougers. The crisis appears to be growing, and a June survey by the American Hospital Association finds “nearly all” hospitals reporting shortages of one or more drugs.

The Times reports doctors’ advice for patients and suggests contacting members of Congress about the Preserving Access to Life-Saving Medications Act, introduced last January and still in committee. More information is available at The American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP).

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