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Cancer drug shortages mean higher costs and greater risk for patients
Date:3/21/2013

must often use complex treatment regimens, and shortages add unnecessary complexity. Unlike medications for other diseases, there are few, if any, therapeutically equivalent alternatives available for many oncology drugs in short supply.

"Drug supplies remain unpredictable and serious problems persist," Hoffman said. In February, the University of Utah Drug Information Service was tracking national and regional shortages of more than 320 drugs, which is the highest number since 2010.The University of Utah Drug Information Service tracks drug shortages and provides advice about managing shortages through the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

The survey follows an earlier St. Jude-led study that linked a shortage of the chemotherapy drug mechlorethamine to a greater risk of relapse for some young Hodgkin lymphoma patients. Relapse meant those patients underwent additional intensive therapy that left them at greater risk for infertility and other treatment-related health problems later.

Multiple factors contribute to drug shortages, including manufacturing and quality problems, production delays and discontinuations. Earlier studies have shown that most shortages occur in the supply chain of generic injectable drugs, particularly medications to combat cancer and infections. In 2012, new federal legislation gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration additional tools to prevent and ease drug shortages, including requiring manufacturers to report anticipated supply problems of key medications. "While the FDA and others have worked diligently to address the problem, additional action is needed to address continuing shortages," Hoffman said.

The survey found shortages increase health care costs as scarcity drives up the price and requires staff time to manage the problem. About one-third of institutions in this survey reported pharmacy staff spent at least 20 hours each week working on issues related to the drug shortage. That
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SOURCE St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
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