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Planning is prescription for getting around drug shortages

Posted November 1, 2011

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— Although President Barack Obama ordered federal officials Monday to help reduce shortages of critical drugs as much as possible, pharmacists are still advising patients to plan ahead on filling prescriptions.

The executive order calls for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to speed up its safety reviews and push drug companies to better communicate on supplies.

Hospitals and pharmacies nationwide said supplies of more than 200 drugs to treat everything from attention-deficit disorder to cancer and to protect patients during surgery are limited.

"The level of shortage is the worst in history right now," said Jane Green, pharmacy director for Rex Healthcare. "The demand for medications is growing just like our population is growing."

At WakeMed, pharmacist Lynn Eschenbacher said various injectable drugs used during and after surgery are in short supply. Pharmacies work to track down alternatives, but that can be costly.

For example, the alternative for one drug used to protect the lining of the stomach costs five times more that the drug itself, and insurance companies don't cover the mark-up.

"It is a crisis, and the time and energy that we're spending in the hospitals on this is enormous," Eschenbacher said.

Prescription medicine Drug shortages at critical levels in Triangle

Some deaths across the U.S. have been blamed on a patients not getting a needed drug.

In September, the WRAL Health Team spoke with Bessie and Delmas Williams as he nervously waited for bladder cancer medication. Orders for the drug were backed up, and he eventually turned to a friend from church who had a connection through a medical clinic to find the drug.

"Some of these drugs, even though they're essential for patients, if the company is not making money, there's no incentive to make it," Eschenbacher said.

The shortages have created a gray market, where little-known companies pop up across the country with supplies of critical drugs at escalated prices, she said.

Green said Obama's order is a good step to easing the shortages.

"Any light we can shine on this particular problem can only be helpful," she said.

16 Comments

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  • akomashere Nov 7, 2011

    As for the over diagnosis, again the problems of a few should not punish the many. Just b/c some shouldn't be identified as ADHD doesn't mean I am not. My husband asks anyone who is doubtful, be locked in a room with me for 15 minutes, I simply ask you live in my shoes, in my head, in my world on any of my non medicated days. In the end this has nothing to do with doctors or patients. I see this an issue with drug companies not feeling they are making "enough" money to justify increased production as well as themselves and insurers making a profit. They have found the limit of production in which they will make the most profit per pill and refuse to go beyond that amount. Just because a generic "is available" doesn't mean I am able to obtain it. BUT my insurance will only cover 60% if I get a name brand version of my medication regardless of a national shortage. So my option is pay $250/month for my ADHD medication as a brand name or torture all those who live near me without my meds

  • akomashere Nov 7, 2011

    Frankly, I'm glad all the "stimulant" drugs aren't available. I work in a pharmacy, and I see so many people who are abusing them. We have to deal with all the "addict behavior" I hope the hydrocodone supply dries up, too! ADD is a highly over prescribed "condition." Get all these people who are SURE something is wrong with them (too much technology maybe?) addicted to amphetamines, then have a shortage.- howdiditgettothis
    Clearly you are working with the princple of punish the masses for the poor choices of few. Based on your opinions and assuming you have children of your own, you would be ok if your child's teacher took away a reward or implemented a punishment on the entire class because a few students weren't following directions?
    This is the same thing in my book; just because some people abuse it or some doctors aren't following federal regulations I don't feel is justification for restricting my access to correctly prescribed medication.

  • howdiditgettothis Nov 4, 2011

    Frankly, I'm glad all the "stimulant" drugs aren't available.
    I work in a pharmacy, and I see so many people who are abusing them.
    We have to deal with all the "addict behavior" I hope the hydrocodone supply dries up, too!

    ADD is a highly over prescribed "condition." Get all these people who are SURE something is wrong with them (too much technology maybe?) addicted to amphetamines, then have a shortage.

  • howdiditgettothis Nov 4, 2011

    Contact the drug company directly -- that's your best bet.

    Not sure what the US drug companies are crying wolf about this time, either. Many, many drugs that used to be made exclusively in the US for sale in the US are now made outside the US and shipped into the US for sale.

    Obviously, much cheaper to be outside the US, and they are out of the eye of the watchful FDA (which is there for a reason folks).

    Your government should not be allowing this to happen. Think before you vote!

  • akomashere Nov 3, 2011

    So where/what is your tip to getting around these drug shortages?
    Adderal is in short supply (XR and IR) but since it is a controlled substance, I am only allowed to fill it THE DAY it runs out! So then I sit at the pharmacy only to find out an hour later that they are all out. So then I don't have my meds for 4-10 days depending on how long it takes to arrive and how far down the list I am. This is a stimulant medication that you are not supposed to end abruptly, you should slowly wean off of yet every month I have a week span I won't have my medication. Which takes not only a toll on me and my body but my family as well, it is not a pleasant experience with a non-medicated wife!
    FYI, the pharmacy also does not let you drop off the prescription a week ahead of time to have filled when allowed, they are not permitted to do this.

  • fayncmike Nov 2, 2011

    "fayncmike...you continue to amaze me, read the article.... The reason they stop manufacturing them is because they are so cheap they can't make a profit. The shortage does not increase the price as you suggest. The black market might sell the drugs higher but that's illegal.
    whatusay"

    After FDA approval is amortized the production cost of most drugs is quite small. The drug companies, like a lot of big businesses aren't satisfied with modest profits. They want to make a killing on every drug. Well guess what? Their robber baron days are coming to an end. If the American drug companies won't settle for modest profits I bet those abroad will.

  • whatusay Nov 2, 2011

    fayncmike...you continue to amaze me, read the article.... The reason they stop manufacturing them is because they are so cheap they can't make a profit. The shortage does not increase the price as you suggest. The black market might sell the drugs higher but that's illegal.

  • common_sense_plz Nov 2, 2011

    They will do anything to increase the cost of meds. Amazing that these companies and our govt. see the elderly or with some disease as expendable.

  • fayncmike Nov 2, 2011

    "It's just like car manufacturers, or even pillow makers. They make a run of a product guessing what the annual demand will be... then move onto the next production run. They can't produce the same drug all year long. It takes time, and a lot of money, to gear back up for production of a product they didn't anticipate a shortage of.
    Worland"

    Or they just under produce to create a man made shortage to keep prices high.

  • indrdw Nov 2, 2011

    Drug companies do not want to make the generics because the latest, new improved variety makes more money for them. It is called greed. Yes, they need to make money to cover their research but I think they get some of our money to do that. How can these people sleep at night knowing people cannot afford to stay healthy and can possibly die.

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