Sadly this is nothing new ABC news has been reporting on the reasons behind it for over a year what is shocking, astounding and very disheartening lies in the origins of the shortages and the lack of action taken to prevent them in the first place, forestall such occurrences in the future or save lives now. Utterly horrifying to many of the general public, never mind those fighting a life threatening illness is how long it has taken the FDA to put together guidelines for simple things like mandatory informing of hospitals if there could be a drug shortage, agency monitoring of production when it comes to lifesaving cancer drugs, for example. The result, doctors telling people, too many times parents of children, mothers fighting to live so they can raise their kids, we only have a 2 week supply of the drugs you need, we can’t finish your treatment because the drug isn’t available. Unfortunately adding to the problem some of the drugs are one of a kind such as a leukemia drug for children; others while they have substitutions, said substitutions may not be as effective as the original, costing lives. 15 deaths in 15 months but several go unreported likely because it is attributed to their disease not a lack of treatment drugs. One doctor going so far as to say he felt like he was practicing medicine in a third world country because he can’t get his hands on basic things to treat what his patients have, possibly curable ailments, extended lives but for medicine no one wants to keep available.
So how did we get here; well it seems to be a perfect storm of economic conditions, greed increased demand caused by lifestyle factors, environmental factors, early detection and lack of oversight by our government, beginning with the fact that most, if not all, of these drugs are manufacture overseas and 50% of that supply comes here tainted. Factories, independent of location, have had to shut down for upgrades or shutdown permanently due to lack of funds; existing manufacturing plants subsequently cannot keep up with the demand. Because many of the drugs produced are generic, big pharmaceutical companies get little to no profits from their creation and therefore possess no interest or incentive to keep plants in working order, reinvest in continued operations. However drug shortages are nothing new currently 180 drugs to do everything from fight cancer to treat infections are currently on a list of medicines whose supply has reached critical, and only now, that it’s gone so low is the FDA concerned, are they formulating a plan to handle a situation potentially meaning life or death to thousands. Such plans include notifying the FDA 6 months before an impeding shortage, creating a national stockpile, creation of a nonprofit to import then eventually make the drug here on US soil; the problem, everything on the solutions list is in the planning stage nothing is ready for implementation immediately. Semi fortunately the FDA did take other actions fast tracking foreign and domestic drug making operations ending some shortages with a week; still 8 cancer drugs on the shortage list along with several others remain in drastically low supply. As the news media pointed out, it’s just a Band-Aid where a cure is needed, and, opens the door to new issues. FDA drug fast tracking has been known to go horribly wrong; fast tracking plants can have the same effect if quality control and safety measures are short cut to save time. Authorizing more foreign companies to churn out additional drug vials places us at risk for the same predicament, drugs that come to the United States contaminated with particulate matter, unsterile and unusable.
Worse is where this leaves doctors, clinics trying to get lifesaving medicines still on shortage lists to their patients, they are either left without, left paying huge markups for items in very limited supply, one drug’s price changed as much as 600% and that was from a legitimate source, or they are left to get it from an unlicensed supplier, suppliers known to sell fake drugs, leaving frantic doctors and panicked recipients facing a set of twin disasters complicating an already dangerous situation. Fake drugs and fake pharmacies; fake pharmacies in it solely for the money they can literally extort from hospitals, clinics and government programs like Medicare and Medicaid, selling shortage medications at extravagant markups. So called pharmacies licensed that look like boarded up old businesses, pretty on the outside office spaces that simply warehouse what drugs they have which, turns out isn’t that much, places that have never been open to customers, sans office furniture, looking for intents and purposes like a business going out of business, specializing in just the medicines so hard to get, zeroed in on the profits they can line their pockets with at the expense of human life. Frustratingly in this case it appears they are succeeding in their plans because entities issuing the license either aren’t required to go by and look at the facility making sure it’s open, making sure there are customers, products commiserate with what they are supposed to be. Further counterfeit establishments aren’t hard to spot dilapidated buildings or sparsely lined shelves are the hallmarks of such places along with absence of personnel, locked buildings with no one in them, no cars in the parking lot, shelves only containing highly sought drugs. You could tell anyone what to look for; them walk into any place like this and determine it’s validity in minutes, meaning the only excuse for widespread proliferation of the problem is inattention. Fake drugs are a racket from overseas again centered around money, money to be made pawning off similar looking drugs housing none of the active ingredients, literally killing people. Fake drug makers fueled all the more by desperate doctors willing to do everything they can to help people, creating as vicious cycle brought on by a complete lack of preparation and foresight.
Certainly we should have a national stockpile of such important drugs, we should have onshore makers providing us with a supply sans contamination, particulate matter and the like rendering so much of the foreign supply useless; whether that means a non for profit is put in charge of gathering funds for plant creation, operation, maintenance or if it means providing reasonable subsidies to pharmaceutical companies to guarantee they keep manufacturing unique, crucial, generic drugs giving life to sick people. Or a government-run drug facility specializing in rare, low profit, low incentive drugs vital to the treatment of disease could put an end to the drug rackets, worried doctors and anxiety ridden patients. Another option, a private sector entity with a government contract consisting of one job, keep these drugs in hospitals, available for use. An advantage presented by making this a government operation is it also allows for research/design in searching for new needed drugs that likewise don’t stand to turn a profit for large pharmaceutical companies; chief among them antibiotics to combat the growing number of super bugs, resistant strains of common bacteria, aiding those who have built up a resistance to antibiotics or find themselves allergic to a large number of the widely used ones today. Additional drugs used for treating other conditions could easily become a positive side effect mental health drugs to treat conditions like various differentiations on psychosis, for instance. Because unlike pills to treat anxiety and depression, medications to treat more severe mental health problems are still based on ancient formulas used for decades, still carry serious, long term, unwanted side effects causing people to be all the more against taking them.
Returning to less complicated ways to handle medicine supply problems, of course we need guidelines regarding informing need to know entities about possible shortages; in addition to alerting the FDA, they should be required to warn hospitals they supply to of not only the shortage but how long it could take to correct, the cause of the problem. Doing so allows hospitals to divert new patients needing short supply drugs to other hospitals who may have more of them, who may be experiencing no problems because they are receiving their drugs from a totally different supplier. Coinciding with a national stockpile, hospitals should be mandated to have an emergency supply of these types of drugs to help compensate for major shortages. Production sites should have to give 90 days notice before shutting down plants for remodel, upgrades or going out of business, unless they are being closed by health departments, FDA inspectors for health and safety violations. When issuing a pharmacy license, nationwide, no matter what city, state, county it’s in, within 30-90 days an inspector should be charged with going to the business and looking for the telltale signs detailed above; if they are found, the business is investigated and where appropriate shut down, masterminds prosecuted, sending the message that this isn’t just another racket to garner a quick buck and it won’t be treated that way. No longer will agencies be turning a blind eye, looking the other way while the unscrupulous rob the misfortunate of the most precious thing, life.
The United States government at its worst, an appalling failure of epic proportions and a situation that was, is absolutely preventable. We have contingency plans for disaster events in the emergency alert system, warning systems for tornados and other natural, catastrophic weather events in sirens, radio weather updates exc., we have always had plans in place to deal with war, enemy attack on the U.S., stepped up of course after 9-11, it is nearly inconceivable we wouldn’t have a plan to ensure supplies of something as important as medicine, especially one of a kind, lifesaving medicine for which there are no replacements. The outrageous questions is why isn’t there a plan, why were things let get so bad before someone spoke up and said we need a plan? And before the objections start to government-run something else in this country, another subsidy given to a mega corporation, we can subsidize big oil, give tax breaks to giant corporations for green energy upgrades, why can’t we provide a subsidy to make sure kids get the cancer drugs they need to live a full life to adulthood? Why can’t we make sure a woman gets the opportunity to be a mother, mothers can raise their kids, a woman can see her grandchild, why is it even a question that has to be asked? In fact multitudes would say it’s time to stop subsidizing big oil, stop handing out ridiculous tax breaks, fairly tax the rich multimillion, multibillionaires, so that government can do the things that can’t otherwise be done, like making sure we have medicine to treat all types of disease. Lastly for the antigovernment folks, the smaller government clan, if government conservative, liberal, you name the faction, can tell us what to wear, what we can eat, tell us who we can marry, who we can have sex with as free, consenting adults, in the interest of upholding public morality, public decency and the public good while few say a word, then why can’t they be allowed to run a facility mandated with producing medicines?
The answer, they are too busy calling the opposite side the origins of big government, because democrats want to give full healthcare to women even if they work in a place that doesn’t believe in birth control, because they interpret full disclosure of mortgage parameters, documents written in plain English, not legal, industry mumbo jumbo as telling you what kind of mortgage you can have rather than the type you are getting. They are too busy attempting to pass personhood bills that not only would end abortion, making no exception for rape, incest victims or the life of the mother, but also interfere with fertility treatments, less used types of birth control such as IUD’s, force women seeking an abortion to undergo a procedure that amounts to medical rape, shoving a device inside a women to show her a better view of the developing child in the hopes they won’t abort. Factions sitting in congress now, who want to abolish social security calling it getting the government out of your money, want to abolish the IRS on the same premise, who want to dismantle the department of education calling it getting the government out of your kid’s education, ironically when it’s the schools themselves telling you what kind of food to put in your kids lunch, what kind of footwear they can have in a school without uniforms or allowing that freedom and on, and on, and on. But most champion anti sodomy laws that discriminate against gay people, lock up sexually experimenting teens, champion city bans on thong underwear, baggy pants or wearing pajamas in public, based on the concept of I don’t wanna see that. Unfortunately leaving the sane portions of government to spend their time combatting such nuisance legislation, never having enough time to focus on the really important things like cancer drug supplies; what a sad day in American history.