Drug shortages plague patients, doctors, hospitals

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- One hundred eighty-five. That's the number of drug shortages in America on Monday. They include drugs you pick up at the neighborhood pharmacy and critical medicines you could need in your doctor's office or the hospital.

A precious vial of medicine is being held for a patient at Kansas City Urology. The medicine, BCG, helps prevent the spread and recurrence of bladder cancer. But there isn't enough for all patients who need it.

"We simply haven't been able to offer it to some patients, and then the people we do offer it to, we wonder if there's going to be enough to complete their cycle of six weeks," said Dr. Sam Kuykendall.

BCG is one of dozens of drugs shortages ranging from cancer drugs to pain medicines to antibiotics. This year alone, the national drug shortage website has listed close to 265 medicines.

"It's a common daily occurrence for us," said Phil Schneider, pharmacy director at Olathe Medical Center, who is on the board of the American Society of Health System Pharmacists.

He says shortages often don't hit home for patients because staff members at pharmacies search long and hard to find just enough of a drug, or they find alternative medicines or they make the correct dose in the pharmacy using bulk vials. That's the case now with one strength of Zosyn, an antibiotic for serious infections, that's in short supply.

Schneider says in spite of some government efforts, the drug shortages that picked up five years ago are still occurring because of manufacturing problems, quality issues and trouble getting new suppliers up and running when other suppliers have problems.

"There hasn't been enough -- more active surveillance on the part of the FDA to anticipate shortages. These shortages come on a second's notice," said Schneider.

There are alternatives to BCG, but Dr. Kuykendall says they are not as effective.

"Frustrated -- not to be able to do everything you know to do to take care of somebody. Uh, yeah, " said the doctor.

Schneider says if you're starting a medicine, it's a good idea to find out if there's a shortage, and if there is, what your alternative will be.