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Critical Cancer Drugs in Short Supply, and That's Not All

RUSS REPORT - Last week, the shortage of a critical drug used in the treatment of pediatric cancers, methotrexate, made headlines across the nation. Used to treat several cancers, Methotrexate is considered crucial in battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in adults but especially in children. For many cancer patients it could mean the difference between living and dying.

But the shortage of drugs for cancer patients does not stop there. An additional 28 drugs used to treat cancer in some 500,000 patients are also in short supply. Many of the drugs are generic and regulated by law.  Drug makers report that they cannot make any money producing them and there are also fewer suppliers. Further exacerbating the shortage was the closing of a major plant last fall, one of the largest producers of methotrexate.

On February 21, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stepped up its efforts to ease the shortage of two cancer drugs. The FDA will temporarily allow imports of a replacement drug for Doxil, used to treat ovarian cancer and multiple myeloma, that has not been available for new patients for months. The other drug is a preservative free version of methotrexate.   
Life saving cancer drugs are not the only drugs in short supply. Barely two months into 2012, University of Utah Drug Information Service, which tracks the shortages, is currently following 283 active drug shortages most of which have lasted longer than a year.

Erin R. Fox, PharmD Manager- Drug Information Service
University of Utah Hospitals & Clinics said, “The most prevalent shortages are autonomic drugs most often used in the operating room setting or in a critical care / intensive care unit. Central Nervous System (CNS) such as adderall and ritalin, as well as pain medications, medications to ease anxiety (benzodiazepines), electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, mainly used in critically ill patients, gastrointestinal drugs like antiemetics and hormone drugs for diabetes, steroids, etc., top the list of shortages in 2012.”

American Hospital Association (AHA) survey on drug shortages (dated July 2011) detailed that “99.5% of hospitals reported experiencing one or more drug shortage in the last six months and nearly half of the hospitals reported 21 or more drug shortages, and 82% of hospitals report they have delayed patient treatment as a result of a drug shortage and more than half were not always able to provide the patient with the recommended treatment.” (LINK)

The survey also says that 3 out of four hospitals have rationed drugs and have purchased more expensive alternative drugs from other sources. These costs could eventually end up costing patients more for their care.
These shortages are costly, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists that puts the U.S. labor costs associated with managing the shortages at nearly $216 million annually.

Fox is optimistic that these shortages will improve in 2012, but said, “People are looking for solutions to fix the drug shortage problem, but unless the manufacturing is fixed it won’t help – perhaps drug shortages are really a symptom of crumbling manufacturing in our country.” But Fox cautioned that shortages are likely to be problematic for years.

The FDA has posted 2012 shortages at:

(Katharine Russ is an investigative reporter. She is a regular contributor to CityWatch and to the North Valley Reporter. Katharine Russ can be reached at: ) –cw

TAGS:  Russ Report, Katharine Russ, Cancer, Drug, Shortage, AHA, Methotrexate, Adderall, Ritalin


Vol 10 Issue 16
Pub: Feb 23, 2012