Shrinking drug supply -

Life-saving drugs in short supply

An unprecedented shortage of life-saving drugs is gripping hospitals nationwide. At the mercy of this missing medication are the severely injured and ill including those battling cancer.

Of the nearly 10,000 pharmaceutical drugs available in the United States, you may only take one or two, but if it's one of the nearly 200 now in critical supply, your health becomes a matter of time and inventory.

"We can put people on the moon, we ought to be able to get lifesaving drugs for our community," said Dr. Derek Raghavan, President of The Levine Cancer Institute (Carolinas Healthcare System) in Charlotte, NC.

For the cancer community, prescription drugs like steroids or drugs for chemotherapy are a lifeline and they are dropping to dangerously low levels. 

"This whole thing is a crisis," said Bob Carta, Assistant Vice President of Pharmacy Administration with Carolinas Healthcare System.

According to pharmacists, the microscope needs to focus on the multi-billion dollar global pharmaceutical industry controlling the supply of drugs.

"Something rotten is going on," Raghavan said.

What's going on involves several causes that have many side effects.

Company consolidations have left fewer manufacturers of the less profitable drugs.

"It's kind of crazy, right now, a drug manufacturer can get out of the business of making a type of drug without telling anybody," Carta said.

So, this means the medicine you need or want now, you may have to wait for.

"So there are people with potentially curable cancers that are being deferred, and that's outrageous," and Raghavan adds, "Its infuriating, it's embarrassing. You feel bad for the patient, you feel bad for America because we should be better than that."

The US actually only produces about 20 percent of the raw products available to pharmacies. That means a problem in production abroad, adds to the shortage of supply, here, at home.

Then, there's the gray market where fly-by-night companies buy up inventory and offer to sell it to the hospital for a very steep price.

That also cuts supply if the hospitals can't afford to buy, or if they do, at a price as much as 100 times more. Much, if not all of this cost, is then passed down to the patient.

"I don't know if the public really realizes how severe this is," Carta says.

Thankfully, there are a few things the public can do about their care and it starts with asking a few simple questions.  

Ask your doctor if and where the prescriptions you need are accessible.

The hospital may be able to track it down, or you may have to travel for your treatment.

Ask about any possible dangers in treatment delays or in taking a smaller dosage.  

Be sure to ask about alternative prescriptions, their effectiveness, and their side effects.  

"Our job is to do the best job we can with the weapons we have," but Raghavan points out, "It becomes a problem when those weapons are not available.

This is why doctors want their patients to be persistent with both their own personal care and with their politicians. Physicians and pharmacists want lawmakers' regulatory hands to push for patient protection.

They say no one should have to worry about a fight for prescriptions when they're already fighting for their life.

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