Drug shortages threaten lives of cancer patients in the U.S.

  • The United States is facing a critical shortage of essential cancer drugs
  • Dr. Julie Gralow: Most widespread shortage of cancer drugs we've ever had
  • Patient: "My cancer is curable and treatable, but only with this drug"

(NewsNation) — The United States is facing a critical shortage of essential drugs, and the impact could soon become a matter of life and death, especially for the millions of Americans battling cancer.

Currently, there are 14 cancer drugs in short supply, particularly injectables that are used daily to treat various types of cancer, including testicular and lung cancer.

Dr. Julie Gralow, chief medical officer and executive vice president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, joined “On Balance With Leland Vittert” to discuss the shortage.

“This is not the first time we’ve had cancer drug shortages,” Gralow said. “But this is clearly the most widespread shortage of specific cancer drugs that we’ve ever had.”

The Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged the issue and reassured the public that they are working closely with manufacturers and supply chain stakeholders to mitigate the impact of these shortages.

The problem primarily stems from production issues, particularly with generic drugs. A study conducted by Washington University found that generic manufacturing sites are operating at only 50% capacity.

According to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, the problem lies in the low profitability of generic drugs, which dissuades companies from entering the market and producing these essential medications.

Florida resident Carrie Cherkinsky shared her story during an appearance on “On Balance With Leland Vittert,” describing how the shortage delayed her crucial chemotherapy treatment for ovarian cancer.

“My cancer is curable and treatable, but only with this drug,” Cherkinsky said.

However, the drug shortage crisis extends beyond cancer treatments. It affects a wide range of crucial medications, including epinephrine injections for severe allergic reactions, Ozempic for diabetes management, amoxicillin for bacterial infections, and even certain vaccines.

The supply issue has reached a national level and is considered a threat to national security, as heavy reliance on countries like China and India for drug manufacturing poses significant risks.

Dr. Gralow discussed potential solutions to the cancer drug shortage, saying, “There are short-term solutions and long-term solutions.”

“In the short term,” Gralow continued. “We should use the limited supply of the drugs available as best we can. Make sure we’re not wasting the drug in the vial and using it appropriately. We have guidance on how to eke out the most drug from the limited supply we have.”

In response to the worsening situation, Congress is stepping in to address the issue. Members of a House panel have criticized the FDA for its lack of effectiveness in combating drug shortages.

News agencies have also come under scrutiny for not adequately highlighting the severity of these shortages and their impact on vulnerable individuals.

Some attribute the dysfunction in addressing the drug shortage crisis to the revolving door of leadership at the FDA, which has seen four leaders in the past six years.

The agency has faced various investigations, resulting in scathing descriptions such as being a “global laggard” and deeply flawed, according to a 2017 inspector general report.

The government accountability office has criticized the FDA for inconsistent oversight, while one foundation described the agency as being in constant turmoil.

While the head of the FDA places blame solely on manufacturers, the reality is that drug shortages are leaving vulnerable Americans without access to life-saving medications.

On Balance with Leland Vittert

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