Jessica Wapner at Work in Progress, which is part of the PLoS Blogs network, has just posted a fascinating look at some very disturbing drug shortages. She begins with a broad stroke of the problem:
Drug shortages are not new, but they are increasing. Though not confined to cancer, this disease is being hit most severely because many chemotherapy drugs don’t have equivalent substitutes. If you’re short of a drug for blood pressure, you can select another one, but this is often not the case for cancer (though sometimes it is). And, 132 of 178 shortages in 2010 were for sterile injectables, many of which were for cancer.
From there Wapner offers two examples of pharmaceuticals in short supply. She moves on to discuss many of the causes of the shortages, as well as some of the consequences thta extend beyond clinical care:
Drug shortages are also slowing down investigations of new drugs. Clinical trials depend on having a control arm, in which well-known treatments are given to a group of patients for the purpose of comparison. If those standard treatments are not reaching the clinic, then these studies get delayed, slowing down the already years-long process of bring effective new drugs to market.
In all, it's a very well written, in-depth look at a troubling problem. Highly recommended.