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Cancer Patients Affected by Drug Shortages

As someone who is relatively healthy, I don’t really think about certain medications not being available to me if there is a need. I walk down the aisles of Target and see thousands of little boxes holding multi-colored pills ready to cure my every illness. I also just assume that if I get admitted into a hospital, a nurse will deliver via a little white paper cup a pill to ease my pain or to deliver antibiotics. However, I read an article that certain cancer patients are being affected by the lack of availability of specific medications. For pharmacy technician students, these issues are important to consider.

Jeremy Goldmeier writes on that there is a shortage of medications for ovarian cancer patients. “Ovarian cancer, in particular, is one of the five most deadly cancers in women. And more troubling than anything else, Dr. Mark Reedy [gynecological oncologist] says he and his fellow practitioners don’t have the drugs they need to treat patients.

“The drugs Doxil and Taxol are two of the go-to treatments in Reedy’s arsenal. They’re among about 20 drugs used in cancer and chemotherapy treatment that are now in perilously short supply in the United States… The shortage is forcing oncologists like Reedy to make decisions they should never have to make with regards to patient care,” explains Goldmeier.

“‘When patients recur, and they often do, Doxil’s one of the first drugs we go to,’ said Reedy, who has practiced in Abilene for 12 years. ‘We can no longer give patients the same standard of care. … So we have to get creative. The drugs we’re using aren’t the ones we’re supposed to be using.'”

What frightens in me is that drug shortages are becoming more prevalent. In June, the FDA listed 246 medications that were in short supply. Another issue is that there are not generic back-ups or alternative medications available for these conditions. One good thing Goldmeier explains is that “There are currently two bills — one in the U.S. Senate, one in the House of Representatives — that would mandate pharmaceutical companies alerting the FDA ahead of time when drugs run short.”

There are several reasons for these drug shortages such as lack of profitability, consolidation of the drug industry, limited raw materials and manufacturing issues. The government also does not regulate how much or what kinds of medications should be or need to be produced.

As a student getting pharmaceutical technician training, these are some tough issues to face. I think it’s important to help the people you can and do your best to advocate for those in need.

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Drug Shortages Becoming More Common

I think medications have become the sixth food group on the dietary pyramid. I’m not judging; I pop pills like tic tacs including everything from flax seed oil to vitamins to Excedrin. Yesterday I visited a friend in an assisted living home and he had a virtual smorgasbord of medications on his coffee table. Amongst all this pill popping, it’s amazing the hear about the drug shortage that is burdening our hospitals. Pharmacy training is an important field to help fill the demands.

Fred Couzens reports in The Henderson Press that, “A few weeks ago, a national survey of 820 hospitals revealed, among other things, widespread troubles with keeping adequate supplies of drugs on hand… The survey was conducted by the American Hospital Association.”

“Jason Glick, the local CHW [Catholic Healthcare West] director of pharmacy, says the CHW hospitals mirror the national results in respect to the finding that 99.5 percent of the hospitals had a shortage of one or more drugs in the past six months, and 44 percent experienced a shortage of 21 or more drugs.”

“’We keep a list of medications on short supply, and we’re constantly reviewing the list at staff meetings,’ said the Doctor of Pharmacy who received his PharmD degree from Idaho State University. ‘Generally, we say, let’s make a plan now. So we’re proactive when it comes to drug supplies. It’s much better to have decisions made before the shortage comes up than to ask ourselves, “Now what do we do?”’

“CHW hospitals also order extra inventory to have on hand, when it’s available, if a shortage is predicted or imminent. That policy to buy excess inventory also occurred at 85 percent of the hospitals participating in the survey,” explains Couzens.

The survey also found some interesting facts such as 47% of the hospitals surveyed experienced daily drug shortages, these shortages are driving drug prices up, and restrictions were implemented to get the medications to those who need it most.To prepare for the unavoidable shortages, 47% of hospitals bought a more expensive alternative, 76% bought a more expensive therapeutic alternative and 42% bought a more expensive product from a new distributor.

Those getting pharmacy technician training are going to experience these medical dilemmas first hand. Knowing how to distribute, compensate and prepare for drug shortages are an important part of the job.

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