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Drug Shortages Affect More Than Half A Million Cancer Patients

Persistent shortages of life-saving drugs led President Obama to issue an executive order last month to try and ease what one administration official called a "dire public health situation" that has created problems for patient care.

So far this year, short supplies of more than 200 drugs — treatments for conditions ranging from cancer to high blood pressure — have been reported.

How many U.S. patients have been affected? Try 550,000 cancer patients alone for the year that ended June 30, according to a new analysis from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

The analysis made use of the IMS database of U.S. prescriptions and lists of shortages from the Food and Drug Administration and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

More than 80 percent of of the drugs in short supply are generics and are injected, rather than given as pills. The top three categories of conditions for which the drugs are used: cancer, infections and cardiovascular disease.

Most of the drugs have only one or two companies making them, so problems in production can have a dramatic effect.

"For 75 products there's a shortage of the product regardless of the supplier" situation particulars, says Murray Atiken, head of the IMS Institute. The supply of those medicines has fallen 20 percent in recent years. One example is the supply of injectable furosemide, a treatment for congestive heart failure, which has fallen recently by about 22 percent from its historical average.

There's another type of shortage, in which "the overall supply of the product may be stable or even rising" but there is volatility due to changes at individual suppliers. Take cisplatin, a workhorse in cancer treatment. The total supply is up but it's volatile, such as when volume dipped after one company stopped production last year, the IMS report says.

IMS has joined the chorus recommending a better system to warn hospitals, doctors and pharmacists about shortages while there's time to take action, such as finding alternative medicines.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

A WAMU Guide To The 2015 National Book Festival

Need some help navigating the schedule? We've come up with an agenda that highlights authors we’ve spoken with here at WAMU.

WAMU 88.5

The Democracy Of The Diner (Rebroadcast)

Whether the decor is faux '50s silver and neon or authentic greasy spoon, diners are classic Americana, down to the familiar menu items. Rich, poor, black, white--all rub shoulders in the vinyl booths and at formica counters. We explore the enduring appeal and nostalgia of the diner.

WAMU 88.5

Europe's Ongoing Migrant And Refugee Crisis And The Future Of Open Borders

The Austria-Hungary border has become the latest pressure point in Europe's ongoing migrant crisis. We get an update on the huge influx of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa and the future of open borders within the E.U.

WAMU 88.5

Environmental Outlook: How To Build Smarter Transportation And More Livable Cities

A new report says traffic in the U.S. is worse than it's been in years. But some say there are reasons to be optimistic. For this month's Environmental Outlook: How revitalized urban centers and new modes of transportation are changing how we get around our cities.

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