Health Watch

Combating drug shortages

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The federal government is trying to combat drug shortages. Thursday, the Senate approved a bipartisan Food and Drug Administration bill allowing patient's quicker access to life-saving medicines.

Last year, there was a record-high 267 drug shortages. With over 100 reported so far this year, lawmakers say something needs to be done to get life-saving drugs to patients.

It's been one month since doctors diagnosed Jim Weatherford of Lemoore with bladder cancer. His first chemotherapy treatment wasn't until Thursday.

Jim Weatherford said, "You know, every day is another day of life that could be withering away because somebody can't supply the chemistry that's needed to treat my cancer."

The Air Force veteran had two previously scheduled appointments. But, both of them were cancelled because the clinic ran out of b-c-g, a powerful drug used to fight bladder cancer.

Weatherford said, "All the cancers that can be treated with medication today, and there's a shortage of it? I don't understand it."

Bill Koole understands the issue all too well. "This is a medication we absolutely ran out of."

Koole is the oncology pharmacist at Children's Hospital Central California. Of the 14 cancer medicines currently in short supply, nine are used to treat children.

Dr. Bill Koole said, "This is unprecedented. We've never had shortages like this. Ever."

Koole says the shortages are the result of too much regulation, and not enough manufacturers.

Lawmakers hope the FDA bill they approved Thursday will offer up a long-term solution by: --requiring drug makers to give the FDA early warnings of potential supply problems at least six months in advance.

--improve communication between drug makers.

--and expedite a backlog of generic drugs awaiting FDA approval.

Changes, Jim Weatherford says can't come soon enough. He said, "Maybe this legislation will open a door to a solution. I'm hoping."

To combat the drug shortages, places like Children's Hospital try to maintain a deep inventory. Sometimes they substitute one medication for another.

One Senator wants to take this bill one step further by adding an amendment, which would give the FDA authority to fine drug companies who knowingly fail to report a drug shortage.

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