All the best efforts to practice science-based medicine are for naught when the optimal treatment is unavailable. And that's increasingly the case ' even for life-threatening illnesses. Shortages of prescription drugs, including cancer drugs, seem more frequent and more significant than at any time in the past. Just recently manufacturing deficiencies at a large U.S.-based contract drug manufacturer meant that over a dozen drugs stopped being produced. This lead to extensive media coverage, speculating on the causes and implications of what seems like a growing problem. So who's to blame?
First, some perspective. Drug shortages are not a new problem, something that's well known to every pharmacist reader of this blog. I've worked in almost every healthcare setting ' and dealing with shortages is a time-consuming and frustrating part of the profession. However, the perception, even among health professionals, is that this situation is worsening. Statistics back this up. U.S. sources accurately track the prevalence of drug shortages and it hit a record high in the first half of 2011, with over 180 drugs reported to be in short supply. Before you blame the dysfunctional American health care system ' it's not just there. The same issues are occurring in Canada, and the United Kingdom, an some are worldwide. Managing shortages is a problem that affects all aspects of a patient's treatment.
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