PLEDGE NOW
What’s Behind Prescription Drug Shortages?

The explosion of prescription drug shortages is plaguing hospitals and patients. What the heck is going on?

At hospitals across the country, "scoring drugs" has taken on a new meaning. Hundreds admit buying medicines at exorbitant prices from "gray market" dealers taking advantage of, and possibly exacerbating, a record shortage of life-saving prescription medicines. (AP)

At hospitals across the country, "scoring drugs" has taken on a new meaning. Hundreds admit buying medicines at exorbitant prices from "gray market" dealers taking advantage of, and possibly exacerbating, a record shortage of life-saving prescription medicines. (AP)

American health care may be ruinously expensive and leave millions out, but at least it’s the best in the world when you can get it, we’re told. But that now depends if you can get the drugs the doctor ordered.

The U.S. health care system is suffering a plague of shortages of prescription drugs. Cancer drugs, antibiotics, nutritional treatments. Not exotic drugs, but drugs you might need. That people need right now. Drugs that aren’t so profitable anymore, so somehow just don’t get made. Now people are desperate. We’ve got drug theft. A gray market.

This hour On Point: why the drug shortages?

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Jennifer Corbett-Dooren, Food and Drug Administration reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Michael Link, President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Michael O’Neal, Pharmacist and Head of drug procurement at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Wells Wilkinson, staff Attorney with Community Catalyst, a national consumer advocacy organization advocating for a greater consumer voice in health.

Highlights

There are currently 213 drugs in short supply nationwide, according to government statistics. It’s the result of a complicated series of factors that have kept some of the most-needed drugs from the patients who most need them.

“These are very common drugs, chemotherapy drugs, anesthesia drugs, drugs used in critical care units,” said Wall Street Journal reporter Jennifer Corbett-Dooren. “These are typically not the drugs that would be in short supply at the pharmacy counter.”

Many of the drugs that are in short supply are generic drugs that have been on the market for decades, she said.

What is means for doctors is a reduced ability to treat the seriously ill. “These are drugs that have been the mainstays of curative cancer treatment,” said Michael Link, President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. “We can now cure almost 80 percent of children with cancer. But without these drugs, our hands are tied.”

“This is really a crisis for us,” Link said.

Michael O’Neal, pharmacist and Head of drug procurement at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, agreed sand added that the shortage has been a long-term problem. “This is something that we’ve been dealing with for more than two years,” he said. “It has hit every corner of the hospital and it’s really created a lot of operational issues and safety concerns.”

Since many of the drug shortages stem from problems in factories overseas, some critics have called for greater government oversight. “We need to improve the FDA’s [Food and Drug Administration] overseas presence,” said Wells Wilkinson, staff Attorney with Community Catalyst, a national consumer advocacy organization advocating for a greater consumer voice in health. “40 percent of finished drug products come from overseas.”

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “Probably to their great disappointment, President Obama’s critics cannot blame this rationing on death panels or health care reform. Rather, it is caused by a severe shortage of important cancer drugs.”

NPR “Drug shortages mean a growing number of Americans aren’t getting the medications they need. That’s causing drug companies and doctors to ration available medications in some cases.”

Food And Drug Administration “Current Drug Shortages: The information provided in this section is provided voluntarily by manufacturers.”

Wall Street Journal “Cancer-drug shortages in the U.S. have caused hundreds of clinical trials to be stopped or delayed, threatening progress on new treatments, a top health official told Congress Friday.”

Here And Now “In the worst known case, Alabama’s public health department this spring reported nine deaths and 10 patients harmed due to bacterial contamination of a hand-mixed batch of liquid nutrition given via feeding tubes because the sterile pre-mixed liquid wasn’t available.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Jul 8, 2015
In this May 14, 2015, file photo, Education Secretary Arne Duncan visits with young student Mario Corona, age 6, in kindergarten at McGlone Elementary School in the Montbello section of Denver. The Obama administration is giving seven more states and the District of Columbia more flexibility from the requirements of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law. In addition to Washington, Duncan on June 23 renewed waivers for Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, New York, and West Virginia. (AP)

The end of No Child Left Behind. Lawmakers debate an all-new federal education policy. We’ll look at the proposals and pushback

Jul 8, 2015
In this photo taken Friday, June 12, 2015, at Camp Coniston John Tilley, executive director, walks through the camp as they prepare to open for the summer season in Croyden, N.H. (AP)

Pack your sleeping bag. Leave your iPhone at home. We’re heading off to summer camp. Our midsummer salute to an American tradition.

RECENT
SHOWS
Jul 7, 2015
Freddy Osborne, left, and teammate Nikolai Darken, second left, both from Fairfield, Conn., play a word against teammates Yanni Raymond, right, and Knox Daniel, second right, both from Charlottesville, Va., during the first round at the 2015 North American School SCRABBLE Championship at Hasbro headquarters in Pawtucket, R.I., Saturday, May 16, 2015.  (AP)

From the living room to world championships, Scrabble is fun—and fiercely competitive. We’ll dig in.

 
Jul 7, 2015
Supporters of the No vote celebrate after the results of the referendum in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, July 5, 2015. Greeks overwhelmingly rejected creditors’ demands for more austerity in return for rescue loans in a critical referendum Sunday, backing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who insisted the vote would give him a stronger hand to reach a better deal.  (AP)

Greeks spoke and said no to the European ultimatum. Folly or bravery, these are uncharted waters for Europe and Greece.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: July 3, 2015
Friday, Jul 3, 2015

We made a lot of last-minute programming changes these past few weeks, and you stuck around with us through it all. Thanks!

More »
3 Comments
 
Election 2016: Who Exactly Is Running For President?
Tuesday, Jun 30, 2015

Who is running for President, anyway? We attempt to help you figure it out.

More »
9 Comments
 
Our Week In The Web: June 19, 2015
Friday, Jun 19, 2015

Why our broadcast changed in different markets this week, and a closer look at a puppet theatre vandalism in rural Norway. (Really).

More »
Comment