Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hospital Drug Shortages Threaten Patient Health, Prove Costly

“How can they write me an IOU for medication?”

That’s Alex Aiello, and he's been battling leukemia since April 2009.

Aiello, 26, was on his last few courses of Atra, a drug known to raise cure rates to 80 percent from the usual 40 percent. But when he went to the pharmacy at Massachusetts General Hospital to get his medication at the beginning of September, he was told there wasn’t any.

“It’s just shocking to see how supplies are low of a major drug to help you fight leukemia,” he told me.

Aiello’s doctor, Eyal Attar, uses much stronger language. “It’s absolutely outrageous that we cannot have these drugs available in our country – with one of the most advanced medical systems available to treat our patients. It is very frustrating and it makes me, quite frankly, angry.”

Aiello’s is not an isolated case. According to a survey by the American Hospital Association, 99.5 percent of hospitals have experienced a drug shortage in the past six months. And 82 percent have had to delay treatment, while more than 50 percent report that they were not able to provide patients with the recommended treatment.

“We’re forced to go to a different regimen,” says Emory University Hospital medical oncologist Donald Harvey. “Sometimes that regimen may be inferior. Instead of changing from one therapy to another, we simply put it off in the cases of say, bone marrow transplants. And so we place that patient at potential risk because we’re having to delay that therapy.” more