Nightly News | August 08, 2011
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We're back with what's been a kind of quiet health care emergency developing over time, the shortage of lifesaving medicines for cancer patients and others who need them. It's happening more and more across this country, and our chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman has more about what's going on and why.
Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: When 51-year-old breast and colon cancer patient Gail Woodish showed up for her regular chemotherapy treatment in November, she was stunned to learn her hospital had run out of her medicine.
Ms. GAIL WOODISH: I had already just lost my hair, I had lost my eyebrows, my -- I had so many things going on. I was worried.
SNYDERMAN: For Gail and her doctor this was a crisis, and they're not alone. There are now 180 medications on the FDA 's drug shortage list. That's up from only 56 just five years ago. And it's not just cancer drugs, it's also treatments for heart attacks, pain, even drugs used for anesthesia.
Ms. JOUHAYNA SALIBA (Food and Drug Administration): We do see this as a crisis. It's very hard to see drugs such as oncology drugs not available to the American public.
SNYDERMAN: How could this happen? Manufacturing and quality control issues are factors, as are just plain business decisions. Drug companies whose medications go generic may decide to stop production to protect their bottom line. And many of these drugs are used on the front lines of America 's emergency departments.
Dr. ANGELA GARDNER (UTSW Medical Center): When lives are at stake, that's when minutes count, and that's when ER docs get worried. And that is what we're concerned about when it comes to drug shortages.
SNYDERMAN: For Gail Woodish there were no substitutes. She simply had to wait.
Ms. WOODISH: I was angry as well as upset. And then having all of that stress as well was very difficult.
SNYDERMAN: The FDA says it's sometimes fast tracking the importation of safe foreign medications and pushing manufacturers for earlier notice of shortages. In a statement today, drugmakers emphasized their "commitment to maintaining good manufacturing practices and working closely and collaboratively with the FDA , supply chain partners and providers." Gail eventually got her medicine and is hopeful that she can now stay on track. She considers herself one of the lucky ones. The shortage has even interfered with clinical trials that may delayed -- may be delayed or stopped because drugs are in short supply. And the FDA expects this to get worse, Brian , before it gets better.
WILLIAMS: Big problem.
WILLIAMS: I'm glad we're shed something light on it here, though. Nancy , thank you as always.