Patients suffering because of national drug shortage

CLEVELAND - Imagine you or a loved one being sick and not being able to get the drugs you need. There are patients suffering due to a national shortage of some much-needed cancer medications.

"They gave me a break for three months," said patient James Burns, who needs Fluorouracil or 5FU chemotherapy to treat colorectal cancer.

The chemotherapy drug is one of many on the Food and Drug Administration's drug shortage website, where manufactures can list drugs they've either discontinued or have on back order.

Pharmacist Kelly Markham said there are enough cancer drugs to treat those who need them.

But Clarence Robust said his adult son Brigham may not be that lucky.

"He's in the hospital because he has lymphoma cancer growing throughout his chest," said Robust. "It's under his armpits, up through his neck, now it's in and down through his abdomen."

Robust said his son's doctors are trying to save his life, but their hands may be tied.

"This specific drug called Bleomycin is what he wanted to use but we kept waiting for it, waiting for it, waiting for it for a long time, for weeks," said Robust. "Finally I came to him and said ‘what's the problem? Why don't you have it?' He told me there's a national shortage of it."

"I said 'are you trying to tell me my son is dying?' He looked at me and said, 'If we don't get the medicine we need, yes,'" he said

Bleomycin, F5u and Doxil are among a number of cancer drugs either on back order or in short supply.

"We're continuously monitoring the FDA's notifications, as well as other oncology lists so we can stay ahead of what's being provided," said Markey. They also continuously check patients' treatment schedules to see how much of any drug they'll need in the next month.

But Markey said some hospitals that don't specialize in cancer treatment or even smaller offices that do are having trouble getting drugs.

Robust, who said his son is too sick to transfer to be transferred where Bleomycin is available, said he can't believe this can be happening in America.

The FDA, which works with manufactures to address shortages, said, "The most common reasons for shortages are manufacturing problems and discontinuations. The most severe shortages we have seen in 2011 involve several oncology drugs and also a shortage of electrolytes. FDA is working with multiple firms on these shortages."

But while his son's room remains empty, Robust wondered if the short supply of some drugs isn't more about old fashioned greed.

"Many people who need health care don't always get the care or the medicine they need cause it comes down to the all mighty dollar," he said.

The FDA said manufacturers aren't required to report shortages. However, we've learned potential legislation working through congress may require manufacturers to report shortages as they occur and require the FDA to take specific action to ease drug shortage issues.

To search the FDA's drug shortage list visit: http://on.wews.com/va2fsc

We're also sad to tell you, the Robust family called to let us know their son lost his battle with cancer. If you would like to share your stories about loved ones fighting cancer, leave your comments in our comment section below or join our conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #WEWScancer .

And be sure to watch NewsChannel5 Chief Investigator Ron Regan's special report about a Cleveland drug company that has a connection to this national shortage, Thursday night on NewsChannel5 at 11.

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