Reports of increasing shortages of medicines, particularly of painkillers, antibiotics, and cancer drugs. Apparently the situation is so bad that the FDA has authorized, on a temporary basis, the import of certain drugs from Europe. This does seem a bit odd when we have been told that the FDA normally has to protect us from foreign drug sources because only U.S. made pharmaceuticals are safe!
Last year 211 drugs were in short supply, tripling the amount in this category in 2006. These are drugs for everything from cancer to cardiac arrest. Vital antibiotics and antivirals such as amikacin and acyclovir are in short supply, leading to patients dying from the organisms that are sensitive only to these drugs. Even anesthetic drugs like propofol are getting hard to find. Interestingly enough, the higher costing versions of generic drugs seem to be more easily available. A cynic might conclude this is because pharmaceutical companies are dropping the cheaper generics because they cannot make as much money from them as they can from newer brand name drugs, even if these are no better than the generic version.
The problem is getting worse. According to an Associated Press report, “The number listed in short supply has tripled over the past five years, to a record 211 medications last year. While some of those have been resolved, another 89 drug shortages have occurred in the first three months of this year.”
The American Society of Health System Pharmacists publishes an updated list of Current Drug Shortage Bulletins . Some of the drugs listed might surprise you. For example, Ciprofloxacin, the anthrax drug, is on the list. Many medicines on the list are injectable like Azithromycin another antibiotic, or Fentanyl, often combined with Versed in so-called “waking anesthesia” used in procedures such as colonoscopies. The list is extensive—check it out.