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An in-depth look at the even-deeper problem of drug supply

A shortage of chemotherapy drugs continues to plague patients in the U.S. The recent, widespread scarcity of medications continues to grow in severity, Healthland reports today in the first of a two-part series investigating the issue:

The shortfalls aren’t limited to cancer drugs either--antibiotics, anesthetics, vaccines and even medications to treat ADHD are getting scarcer. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), demand outstripped the supply of 178 drugs in 2010. The University of Utah Drug Information Service, which works with the American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP) to track shortfalls, says the number was actually closer to 211. Last year, the ASHP and Utah group say the number of drugs in short supply reached a record high of 267.

Stanford's Michael Link, MD, the Lydia J. Lee Professor in Pediatric Cancer, provides this perspective in the article:

“There’s little question that it has never been like this, not just with cancer drugs, but with drug shortages in general,” says [Link], president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. “We have had shortages before, but they have been intermittent, and never anything as extensive both in terms of the breadth of drugs affected and the depths of shortages and how long they lasted.”

Examining the economics of drug supply and the sometimes-competing interests in the supply chain, the Healthland piece offers a hard look at a complex problem in an urgent stage.

Previously: Childhood leukemia patient on methotrexate shortage and A look at the dramatic improvement in pediatric cancer survival rates
Photo by Phil and Pam

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