An Uphill Battle to Attack Oncology Drug Shortages, Capitol Hill Briefing Examines the Issue
Providers and patients are fighting an uphill battle against prescription drug shortages. That was the message of a Capitol Hill briefing hosted by the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) on July 13. Working with a coalition of oncology-related organizations, including US Oncology, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the Oncology Nursing Society, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW), the Community Oncology Alliance (COA), and Children’s Cause Cancer Advocacy, we shared the problems resulting from these shortages.
The house (no pun intended) was packed. Eighty-three Senate and House offices were represented. Congressman Tom Marino (R-PA) attended in person.
The briefing presented results from a recent, unpublished survey by ACCC, AOSW, and COA that examined the impact of drug shortages. Survey results revealed that in 94 percent of reporting facilities in 2010-2011 experienced an oncology drug shortage. Eighty-four percent of those facilities reported that they had to temporarily modify or suspend a chemotherapy regimen for their patients because they were unable to obtain a specific drug.
Also present at the briefing were three oncology experts: a clinical oncologist, an oncology pharmacist, and a cancer survivor, who related the real-world impact of these shortages, including—in some instances—providers having to turn some patients away. Congressional staff and press in attendance learned that while drug shortages are not a new phenomenon their incidence is rapidly increasing. In 2009, 157 drugs faced shortage. In 2010, there were 211. And this year, it is expected that number could top 300. One presenter noted that of all drugs currently in short supply, 18 percent are chemotherapy agents.
The discussion centered on the implications of current policy and how specific changes could be effective in preventing production stoppages. The meeting briefly addressed the two pieces of legislation currently in Congress, S. 296 and H.R. 2245. While the bills do not solve the root cause of drug shortages, they do raise the visibility of the issue.
Participants left the briefing with a better appreciation of the issue, as well as an understanding that further steps must be taken to address this severe concern.
Please visit ACCC’s website to learn more about this issue and how to contact your senators and representative about it. ACCC will continue to keep our members updated on developments.