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Lansing, Michigan

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David Mittleman
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Shortage of Prescription Drugs Serious Problem for Patients

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Doctors, patients, and pharmacists have cited increasing concerns over the shortage of some important prescription drugs such as Adderall and life saving cancer medications. As a result, patients are having to drive far away, rely on poor substitute drugs, or pay more for hard to find medications. A 2011 report from the Food and Drug Administration blamed the shortages on complicated legal, regulatory, and economic factors. The most common problems are manufacturer violations, production delays, ingredient shortages, or shipping problems. For patients, the shortages sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

Drugs in short supply have more than tripled since 2005 from 61 to 200 in 2012. The most critical shortages include drugs for cancer, antibiotics, nutrition and electrolyte imbalance medications, as well as those for neuromuscular problems, anesthesia for surgeries, and antiviral conditions. Shortages are so severe that pharmacists at the University of Michigan, the Detroit Medical Center, St. John Providence Health System, Henry Ford Hospital, the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and Priority Health report that it consumes about 40 hours per week searching for medications.

Shortages have also given rise to concerns over price-gouging by wholesale distributors that will jack up prices of hard to find medications. Additionally, some patients may turn to questionable online sources for replacement drugs that are unsafe. Part of the problems is that the FDA cannot force drug manufacturers to report shortages, although many companies do voluntarily. To help stop the problem, President Obama is asking manufacturers to do more to report shortages early on and he is also creating a five person team within the FDA to respond to shortage crises, as well as hiring an independent third party to study drugs that currently have shortages or will soon. Pharmacists say the problem will likely continue and patients should work with their doctor to decide on other options for drugs that will run out.