COLUMBUS, OH – With cancer patients being denied lifesaving medications due to drug shortages, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined a central Ohio breast cancer patient to outline a bill to address drug shortages at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute today. Brown also called on the Senate to pass the Preserving Access to Life-Saving Medications Act, legislation he cosponsored which would trigger alert of incidents that would likely result in a drug shortage.

Sen. Brown was joined by Sharon Brown, a central Ohio breast cancer patient who, because of a shortage of medication in her treatment plan, had to take a different drug and experienced severe side-effects that delayed her chemotherapy treatment. Ms. Brown depended on the drug Taxol for her breast cancer treatment, but had to switch to an alternative treatment, called Taxotere, due to a drug shortage. She experienced severe side-effects from Taxotere and was rushed to the emergency room with hand-foot syndrome and throat sores. Treating these side effects delayed her chemotherapy treatments by four weeks.

“If there’s a lifesaving drug that can be developed to treat cancer, we must ensure that it is also produced and delivered to patients whose lives could be saved,” Sen. Brown said. “That’s why today, I’m convening Ohio’s top hospital CEOs, directors of pharmacy, and other researchers and staff to help fight against these record drug shortages. Patients like Sharon, should be focusing on fighting cancer – and not worried whether there’s enough medicine to help them get better.”

“I am a wife and mother, and would like to see my children happily grown and make me a grandmother someday,” Ms. Brown said. “I understand that Bristol Myers Squibb is not making enough Taxol because they are not making enough money off of it. This is an unacceptable situation when cancer like mine can be cured if treated appropriately. Enough Taxol should be available for all cancer patients who are fighting for their lives.”

Dr. Michael Grever, chair of the department of internal medicine at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute also highlighted how record drug shortages have forced hospitals and clinics to prescribe medicines that are less-effective or may cause side effects.

“Drug shortages of life-saving medications have become a national crisis, one whose resolution has been a top priority for the University,” said Dr. Grever. “Outcomes can be fatal for patients with cancer if they can’t get the drug most effective in treating their specific type of disease at the time when they need it. Patients suffering from terminal disease don’t have an option to wait for these shortages to be rectified. It has become clear that we cannot resolve the issues creating these shortages without the necessary element of government intervention.”  

According to the Associated Press, at least 15 deaths in the past 18 months can be blamed on drug shortages. These deaths were caused either due to the preferred drug being unavailable, problems with the preparation or administration of the alternative medication, or because of dosing errors with the alternative medication. In 2009, 166 drug shortages were reported to the University of Utah’s Drug Information Service—the clearing house for drug shortage reports.  In 2010, a record 211 shortages were reported, and that record was broken again in 2011 with 267 reported shortages.

Brown also convened a roundtable discussion with hospital CEOs, Directors of Pharmacy, and other hospital staffers who confront this problem from around Ohio to discuss possible solutions to improve patient outcomes. A list of participants is available here. There are a variety of reasons for drug shortages, including:

  • The manufactures experiences quality control issues or production problems
  • Issues in the supply chain for raw materials
  • Delays in manufacturing or shipping
  • Mergers in the pharmaceutical industry – both branded and generic companies
  • The pharmaceutical company decides to stop producing the drug (often due to low profit margins)

In 2009, Brown joined cancer survivors, experts, businesses, and insurance companies at a forum on expanding access to cancer clinical trials at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. Following the forum, Brown introduced the Access to Cancer Clinical Trials Act¬, which was included in the Health Reform Law signed in March 2010.