Health Team

Shortages could hit more than 500 drugs

Posted September 12, 2011
Updated September 13, 2011

— Drug shortages potentially affecting more than 500 medications in the United States this year have left some patients without access to life-saving medicine.

The U.S. saw a record high 180 drug shortages in the first half of 2010. More than 360 drugs could experience shortages in the rest of the year.

Delmas Williams, 83, of Garner, first learned of the drug shortages when he went to refill his prescription for Mytomycin. The drug has kept his bladder cancer until control for six years, but was on back order at the Person Street pharmacy.

"Now we don't know. We're waiting to see when it will come in or if we can get it," Williams said.

Person Street pharmacist Mike James said he's seen many surprised and nervous patients like Williams. "They've been like, 'What do you mean I can't get my medicine?'" he said.

Patients then have to consider changes that could disrupt their care, James said.

"Now then, you've got to fall back to something else. And does the patient get as good results with that?" he said.

New regulations from the Food and Drug Administration are partly to blame, James said.

Many older drugs weren't subject to FDA testing for safety and effectiveness until a new crackdown. Some manufacturers chose not to invest in the costs of satisfying FDA regulations and to leave it to generic drug makers to meet the demand, often at higher costs to consumers.

"I think they've got to go back, and I think the FDA has got to make a decision on how expediently people need to be able to get their medication," James said.

Commonly used drugs affected by the shortages include mental health medications such as Thiopixine, Prolix and Deconoate. Deconoate is a once-a-month injection, and without it, patients might have to fall back on taking multiple tablets a day. Click for a list of the drugs identified as being in short supply by the FDA

The shortages have also hit medications regularly used for sedation in hospitals, forcing doctors to postpone planned procedures.

Pharmacists recommend that when a doctor prescribes a drug, patients ask if the doctor knows if the drug is available and, if not, what alternative drugs might work.

Williams' wife Bessie said she can't understand why her husband can't get the medication that might extend his life.

"I'm startled that in our country, we're not really paying more attention to the lives of our people. Why can't we get the medicine?" Bessie Williams said.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • veyor Sep 14, 2011

    There is not a single drug manufactured in the US.

  • momeeee Sep 13, 2011

    Here is an opportunity for job creation!

  • msnfnp Sep 13, 2011

    Even generic Ritalin for ADHD is becoming hard to find.

  • blahblahblah Sep 13, 2011

    Didn't the compounding pharmacy in Garner just go out of business? I don't see how they can compete with the chains.

  • dagmar Sep 12, 2011

    To find a compounding pharmacist, please access the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists' (IACP) Pharmacy Locator Service toll free at 800/927-4227 or via IACP's website at

  • dagmar Sep 12, 2011

    Your story today on drug shortages ("Shortages Could Hit More Than 500 Drugs") is a serious “wake-up call” for everyone. As more and more medications become unavailable, finding needed therapies can be a frightening challenge.

    There is a solution to this growing problem. When a drug becomes unavailable because of backorders or manufacturing problems, it can often be produced by local compounding pharmacies. These specialized pharmacies have “clean rooms” where they can prepare medications with the same raw materials used by drug manufacturers. Compounding pharmacies are tightly regulated by state and federal agencies and the medicines they prepare are just as safe and effective as those that are mass-produced. North Carolina and the rest of the nation have many such pharmacies.

    Consumers who need medicines that are unavailable should talk with their doctor about alternatives including how compounded preparations can meet their needs.

    To find a local compounding phar