90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
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
Nov 21, 2014
President Barack Obama walks in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, to award the National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology and Innovation. (AP)

The president throws down the gauntlet on immigration. Bloodshed and new tensions in Israel. Keystone fails. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Nov 21, 2014
Laura Ingalls Wilder, an American  writer and novelist, at age 27. Her "Little House" series is a beloved semi-autobiographical take on her childhood in the Western American plains. (South Dakota State Historical Society )

A big new look at the legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the woman behind the Little House.

RECENT
SHOWS
Nov 20, 2014
A shot from the AMC reality series, "Freakshow." (Jessica Brooks / AMC)

From TV to Broadway, circus sideshows — freak shows — are having a big cultural moment. What’s the history behind the comeback?

 
Nov 20, 2014
In this file photo, Hillsborough Sheriff deputy patrols outside the gate of JP Morgan Chase annual stockholders meeting held Tuesday, May 15, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. JP Morgan is one of several large financial institutions currently under investigation for alleged violation of Federal bankruptcy laws. (AP)

You’re supposed to have a clean slate after bankruptcy. But that’s not always true. We’ll ask what’s going on.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
The Explicast, Episode Five: What Is Net Neutrality?
Friday, Nov 14, 2014

The Explicast dives into tech policy territory with a quick look at the real meaning of a complicated bit of tech policy known as ‘Net Neutrality.’

More »
2 Comments
 
Our Week In The Web: November 14, 2014
Friday, Nov 14, 2014

On why we tweet, what we like and a Miley Cyrus and “Serial” theme song mashup you never knew you needed.

More »
Comment
 
Guest Post: U.S.-China Climate Deal is an Important Step In Long Road Ahead
Wednesday, Nov 12, 2014

After a landmark agreement between the US and China on climate change policy and clean energy development, a recent On Point guest reflects on what’s important in this new deal.

More »
Comment