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Drug Shortage Creates Public Health Crisis

Overshadowed by loud debates over “Obamacare” and the rising healthcare costs, a serious shortage of lifesaving drugs is exacting a serious, often deadly toll on medical care in the United States.

Currently, more than 300 sterile generic injectable drugs (given by shots or intravenously) crucial to treating cancer, infections, cardiac arrest, premature birth, pain, and more are in short supply.

According to an article in Philly.com, 83% of oncologists responding to a University of Pennsylvania poll reported delaying cancer treatments, omitting doses, using second-choice drugs, or sending patients elsewhere as a result of medication shortages.

“It’s truly a public-health crisis,” said Michael Cohen, president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.

The causes of the crisis are complex, but the Food and Drug Administration has identified the chief culprit: U.S. factories that make sterile injectables are aging, inadequate, and dwindling, with no economic incentive to upgrade. Injectables have high production costs and low profit margins, so factories often find it easier to divert capacity to more lucrative products than to fix equipment or resolve quality issues.

Seven plants run around the clock to make virtually all injectables in the U.S. Six have received repeated FDA warnings about safety lapses.

Other factors cited by experts include hospital group purchasing contracts that drive down prices, hoarding, and low insurance reimbursements.

To deal with the shortage, patients are urged to be aware of medications they may need that are in short supply; to ask questions of their healthcare provider; and to push for change by joining lobbying efforts.