The United States faces an increasingly critical short supply of drugs. Cancer patients do without necessary chemotherapy medication and anesthesiologists cope with shortages of propofol — an important sedative. In the meantime, morphine shortages have caused the death of at least two patients when a stronger substitute was administered at incorrect dosages.
Profit Trumps Health
Being a country that shuns national health care in the belief that the free market improves access and care, the current shortages of 150 drugs highlights the dilemma of allowing profit margins to determine health care. When the decision to manufacture certain drugs, or discontinue their production, is based on boosting the bottom-line rather than the welfare of our citizens, questions about the system need to be asked.
Rare Illnesses Shunned
Typically, pharmaceutical companies avoid niche markets where the potential customer base is small, but in recent years, Big Pharma has begun abandoning generics as well because there is less money to be made. Not only are patients with rare illnesses denied drug treatments, but the average person expecting top-notch emergency, or even routine, care at his/her local hospital is being put in danger by dwindling supplies of drugs that are considered staples in health care.
Common Medication Shortages
Morphine for pain control and propofol, a sedative used during surgeries, are just the start. Hospitals can’t get the sterile injectibles they need either, like Bactrim for infections. Epinephrine syringes used on heart attack victims, or those suffering for allergic reactions, are also on short lists across the country.
No Federal Laws to Protect Patients
The FDA, which loosely monitors drug availability, has no authority to compel pharmaceutical manufacturers to increase production during critical shortages, nor can it force companies to continue manufacturing drugs for niche groups.
Because pharmaceutical companies are not legally obliged to inform the FDA of impending shortages due to production issues or safety concerns, doctors and patients are left in limbo. The chemotherapy drug Leucorvin, which is used to boost the other cancer fighting medications, is in such short supply that some patients are being treated without it.
Rationing is the rallying cry for those opposed to nationalized health care, but rationing is exactly what is occurring every day in U.S. hospitals. A patient recently woke midway through surgery because the anesthesiologist didn’t have adequate stores of the sedative Propofol to work with, and in an effort to conserve, didn’t administer enough sedative.
Doctors Call for Intervention
The situation is dire, and groups representing cancer doctors, anesthesiologists, pharmacists and safety advocates will meet in Bethesda, Md., on Nov. 5 in an effort to solve this growing health and safety issue. Though they’ve asked drug-makers and representatives from the FDA to attend, there is no word whether they will or not, and it’s unlikely the problem can be solved without their cooperation.
What Do You Think?
Americans like to believe the free market left to it’s own devices works for them, but in the last decade, the health care and pharmacutical companies have proved that is not necessarily the case.
Should the FDA have the authority to monitor the drug supply and compel drug-makers to inform them of problems and keep supplies of critical medications at a certain level?
Have you been a victim of the current shortage?
Let’s hear your thoughts and stories.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may
not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.