The last few weeks media have been full of stories about a severe shortage of a chemotherapy drug -- preservative-free methotrexate -- used to treat childhood leukemia.
Does that hold true locally in Hampton Roads?
Calls to local health systems found that drug shortages in general, particularly of infusion drugs, are an ongoing issue -- but none reported a crisis locally involving this particular drug. Nationally, the crisis is easing as manufacturers are ramping up production to increase supply.
Locally, one health care spokesperson believed that the subject -- care of cancerin children -- was what generated so much media attention about the most recent shortage.
We reported on the overall issue of the shortages of infusion drugs in "Peninsula Health Systems Work Around Drug Shortages," Sept. 2, 2011 -- approximately 180 drugs are found to be in short supply at any given time. We reported that local health systems spend more time and resources to maintain a constant supply for their patients which drives up the costs considerably. Some pointed to the "grey market" which contributes to supply interruptions.
In November, President Obama issued an executive order for the FDA to ask manufacturers to report well in advance about problems that might disrupt production and therefore compromise the supply of essential drugs. (The shortage of preservative-free methotrexate was caused by an Ohio plant suspending operations in November.)
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that there are bills pending in both houses of Congress that would require manufacturers to provide 6 months advance notice of planned interruptions and prompt notification of unplanned disruptions. The House version also would punish failure to notify with major fines. "These bills have been languishing for months. Congress needs to pass them and provide the money needed to enforce them," the NYT editorial concludes.
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