Critical Medication Shortages May Now Mean Life or Death

( – Tens of millions of Americans rely upon prescription drugs daily to improve their quality of life, or in fact to sustain their lives at all. For the most part, they either pick up a prescription from their physician and take it to the pharmacy, or in today’s technological world, the doctor’s office will use their computer to cause a “ping!” in the drug store’s server, after which the patient goes and picks up the medicine. Or the doctor may prescribe it for use in an oncology situation or in the emergency room (ER) to save somebody’s life.

But, What If…

The scenarios above play out countless times every day for everything from antibiotics to birth control, and pain meds to cancer battling drugs. However, one thing that the worldwide pandemic should have brought into clearer focus is that some things don’t always make it to their intended markets, including those that are stored behind pharmacists’ counters.

Just how stressful and potentially devastating drug shortages can be is found in the story of Laura Bray and her daughter Abby who was battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2018. Lest one pass this off as something that happened in a second or third-world nation thinking that the United States is above all this, this family lives in Hillsborough County, Florida.

Ms. Bray describes a scene that too many parents have had to face, her young daughter was “hooked up to chemotherapy,” when an allergic reaction to her medication caused her to go into anaphylactic shock. With that chemo drug now forever out of reach, the doctor settled on another one. But, there was a 15-month waiting list to get access to it which may have been more time than young Abby had to live.

Fortunately for Abby, her mother decided that she was not going to let her die when there was a treatment available, and backed by hundreds of volunteers they called everybody they could think of and got the medicine in 10 days. Laura’s refusal to accept the status quo led her to found Angels for Change an organization that is “on a mission to end drug shortages through advocacy, awareness [sic] and a resilient supply chain.”

It’s not unreasonable for one to ask why there are problems keeping much-needed medicine in adequate supply, and the US Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing on December 5 that hoped to bring some of that to light. The ranking member on the committee, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID), provided one possible answer which is — particularly with generic drugs — the lack of profitability for the manufacturers, and experts testifying seemed to agree with him.

University of California San Diego (UCSD) professor Dr. Inmaculada Hernandez, Ph.D. devoted much of her time speaking on how narrow profit margins can choke off incentives and competition for the pharmaceutical industry. She and Crapo also agree with one another that the lack of profitability has caused those who still like the generic products to move operations overseas to places like China and India where they can be made much less expensively and that the system needs reform, even if it is likely to increase government spending.

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