Medical experts warn Congress about impact of drug shortages on patients

Delays in getting a medication you need are not only frustrating, but in some cases, it can be life threatening.

More than 250 medicines are in short supply around the U.S., according to lawmakers.

This includes critical medications that treat cancer, blood clots and more.

This week, members of a House committee discussed the ongoing problem and explored potential solutions.

“When a patient’s drug is out of stock, they don’t just worry about access,” said Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO). “They also worry about how they’ll afford their medicine. It’s simply supply and demand that drives up prices.”

“The path forward is clear,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA). “Congress must act in a multi-faceted bipartisan way to reward quality, reliable manufacturing and incentivize improvements in the process.”

Lawmakers on the panel heard from the medical community about the impact shortages are having on patients.

“As oncologists, we were suddenly faced with the near impossible task of determining which of our patients could receive our very limited drug supply,” said Dr. Stephen Schleicher, Chief Medical Officer at Tennessee Oncology. “These are patients who are facing cancer, perhaps the scariest word in medicine, and are trusting us to guide them through their journey during one of the most vulnerable times of their lives.”

Schleicher told lawmakers about the impact of shortages of two chemotherapy treatments.

He shared the story of a woman who was being treated for lung cancer, and missed several doses of the medication she needed because it wasn’t available.

“Her condition deteriorated rapidly, and she died soon after,” said Schleicher. “Whether she could have lived an additional several months or longer to spend cherished time with family, we, most importantly the family, will never know.”

Witnesses urged lawmakers to strengthen access not only to drugs, but also to the ingredients needed to make them.

“We must strengthen access to active pharmaceutical ingredients, or APIs, as well as fully manufactured products,” said Eugene Cavacini, Senior Vice President and COO for McKesson Pharmaceutical Solutions & Services. “We must improve transparency across the supply chain. This requires the sharing of insights both up and down the supply chain with safeguards to protect competitive sensitive information.”

Medical experts urged Congress to take action now.

“Imagine being a patient with a hope for cure or wanting to live longer with family suddenly being told that you don’t have the optimal treatment anymore,” said Schleicher.

Comments on this article