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“Profits Before Patients”: National Drug Shortages Are Threatening Cancer Patients’ Lives

Millions of Americans battling cancer are facing obstacles to recovery that have nothing to do with the disease’s toll on their bodies. According to a new study, national shortages of cancer drugs are threatening the health of the people who rely on them to stay alive.

According to the survey, presented at an oncology conference in Chicago on Monday, about 83 percent of cancer specialists have experienced a drug shortage at their clinics in the past six months. Of those doctors, 92 percent said the shortage had some effect on their patients’ care.

A little over a third of the doctors facing a shortage ended up switching their patients from a cheaper, generic version of that drug to a more expensive brand-name version. Considering the fact that cancer care is already exorbitantly expensive — Americans battling cancer are twice as likely to wind up bankrupt compared to those who don’t have the disease — that could represent a serious strain on those patients.

But cancer patients are facing much more than potential financial hardship. Thanks to the shortages, some cancer specialists can’t find the drugs their patients need at any price. When that happens, doctors are forced to make some painful choices. Nearly 80 percent reported that they switched patients to a different, and potentially less effective, chemotherapy regimen. Some have been forced to give cancers more time to spread further by delaying patients’ treatment or reducing their doses. And 37 percent of the study’s participants even had to choose between their patients, deciding which ones could receive life-saving medication and which ones would have to go without.

William Li, the executive director of a foundation that sponsors research into blood vessel growth, told USA Today that some hospitals are forced to hold lotteries to decide which patients will be able to receive the cancer drugs that are in short supply. “It baffles the mind that this is happening in a modern society,” Li said, pointing out that the FDA should do more to avert drug shortages.

Currently, drug manufacturers can alert the FDA when they suspect an impending shortage, and the federal agency can take steps to try to mitigate the effect on the market, like approving the same kind of drug from a different manufacturer. But so far, that hasn’t been enough to avert the situation. Largely due to manufacturing errors in drug-production facilities across the country, the U.S. faces limited supplies of everything from ADHD medications to painkillers — and cancer patients end up being hit the hardest.

Much of the blame may lie with powerful pharmaceutical companies. One of the co-authors of the new study, Keerthi Gogineni, noted that cancer doctors are concerned drug manufacturers may be prioritizing the most profitable medications over the most life-saving ones. “Some manufacturers have diverted existing production capacity from less profitable agents to more expensive agents,” Gogineni explained. Similarly, a group of over 100 doctors recently criticized Big Pharma for “causing harm to patients” by continuing to sell cancer drugs at unsustainably high prices.

 

By: Tara Culp-Ressler, Think Progress, June 3, 2013

June 4, 2013 - Posted by | Big Pharma, Health Care | , , , , , ,

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