Health Care Experts Warn Drug Shortages Are Looming Threat to Patient Safety

Health care spending continues to be an area of fiercely intense debate in the US, where the country seems firmly divided on how much if any level of interference the government should have in regulating prices and managing the costs of health care for citizens.

But another health care issue may be more of an immediate threat to health and safety, as medical experts warn of drug shortages that could affect those suffering grave illnesses such as leukemia. Boston.com ran a worrying piece about supply of drugs in hospitals, including some life-or-death medications, and data suggests that the problem is far more widespread than many would think.

A health care survey last year of more than 800 hospitals revealed that all had experienced troublesome shortages of necessary medication, forcing doctors to substitute second-choice medications that may be less effective in treatment. Lawmakers in Massachusetts acknowledge the problem that one described having “devolved into a public health crisis that threatens our ability not only to provide routine and timely medical care to patients in need, but also to save the lives of people suffering from what should be preventable, treatable and curable health conditions.”

The same lawmakers working on an investigatory health care committee cited the growing issue of a “gray market,” a term used to describe when drugmakers create the appearance of a shortage of important medications in order to artificially drive prices skyward.

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Indeed, some of the medications are not new or even necessarily expensive ones, but drugs that the site quotes experts in saying have just been affected by artificial scarcity:

“Rationing is going on for cancer patients today, not because of government but because of companies” that have disrupted drug supplies, said Dr. David Frank, chairman of the pharmacy and therapeutics committee at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, named in part for Sidney Farber.

Health care experts who have decried the practice say that while it may be “unethical,” hoarding drugs for profit is not “illegal.”