Beyond the Headlines: Severe Drug Shortage
It's a growing problem: the drugs needed to save lives are in short supply. Video by fox47news.comvideo
It's a growing crisis in the U.S.: the drugs needed to save lives are in short supply.
Courtney Gerrish spoke with a cancer patient who's still on waiting list for a drug that could save her life.
First responders are making last minute decisions to save lives forced to make do with the drugs available. Doctors looking for different options to treat cancer, and those cancer patients waiting for treatments that could be the difference between living and dying.
"I got to the point where I knew I was in trouble because I couldn't eat," Julie Hansen told us. She's three years into her diagnosis of late stage ovarian cancer. Now on her sixth round of chemo, treating the disease has almost killed Julie. "I got a severe reaction to the carbo platinum which sent me into cardiac arrest." Doctors switched her to a new chemo drug; it didn't work. At one point Doxil was the preferred treatment, but it was out of supply. So Julie went on a waiting list. She's been on that list for 17 months. "In the meantime every chemo's done a different damage to my body," Julie pointed out.
The drug shortage problem has skyrocketed in recent years. In 2006, 56 drugs were in short supply. In February of this year it jumped to more than 200. Dr. Jonathan Treisman is the Medical Director of Wheaton Franciscan Cancer Care. He, like others, has been forced to hold off treating some patients with Doxil. "I've had patients where I really think they would have done better had I had the drug available to them sooner." At one point, more than half the drugs on the FDA shortage list were considered critical. Like the standard drug used to treat acute leukemia.
First responders are also in a tough spot. When we talked to paramedic Mike Krueger he showed us the empty Atropine and Lidocaine bins. Life saving drugs used on patients with heart problems. Something Krueger calls a "huge hardship." Krueger's been a paramedic 20 years; he's now president of Lifestar EMS and has never seen anything like this. Standard pain meds like Morphine in short supply for several years now. "Sometimes there's alternatives that are good sometimes there's alternatives that don't work quite as well." And Krueger admits it means more room for error. Many of the drugs not available come premixed. Krueger pointed out "now we're having to potentially draw that up and dilute it and mix it up to meet what we need." All in a moving ambulance.
This summer, President Obama signed new legislation, which requires manufacturers to give the FDA a heads up if there are issues that could lead to a drug shortage.
The FDA says the number of shortages has decreased by nearly 50-percent in recent months.