Drug Shortage Hits Home

The Texas Medical Center in Houston is one of the most widely renown in the world. After all, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was moved here from Arizona to be treated after being shot. But even here, there are certain drugs that are simply hard to come by. This is Dr. Wendy Smith of MD Anderson.

"It’s not like the drug company or the wholesaler just calls and says 'hey, this is going to be on shortage.' You just find out. You find out because you keep trying to order a drug and it doesn’t come in."

One example is a special drug used to treat Leukemia. It has a high success rate but doctors say when it’s not available the next best thing isn’t as good and therefore, isn’t an option.

It’s hard to believe that in the world’s biggest and most powerful nation there could actually a shortage of medical drugs. Smith says there are many theories as to why there’s a shortage. One answer has to do with the manufacturing plants being overseas and another has to do with economics.

"Drugs cost money and drugs sitting on shelves are money and that’s true for hospitals; it's true for wholesellers; and it’s true for manufacturers. The idea that you streamline that process down, where you don’t have a lot of drugs sitting in one place at one time. It’s cost effective for all the different players involved."

Nationally, at least a handful of deaths have been attributed to the shortage, an official with the American Hospital Association says the real number is probably higher, especially since many of the drugs in short supply treat cancer. Because of the outrage surrounding the shortage, Congress is considering requiring pharmaceutical companies to notify the FDA when they decide to limit or discontinue the production of drugs and penalize those that fail to comply.
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