Congressman investigates sellers on drug shortages

Congressman investigates sellers on drug shortages

Congressman investigates sellers on drug shortages – BusinessWeek.

A Congressman investigating worsening shortages of hospital drugs is demanding that secondary drug distributors reveal where they’re getting scarce, lifesaving medicines — and explain the huge markups they charge hospitals.


Letters from a House committee cite an Associated Press report that the shortages are responsible for at least 15 patient deaths and that secondary distributors are selling drugs for chemotherapy, anesthesia and infections for hugely inflated prices, in extreme cases up to 80 times the normal price.


Currently, there is no federal law against price gouging on medicine. Cummings said he’s trying to learn as much as possible about the causes of the drug shortages and the high prices being charged. He said his staff has found that the huge markups mainly are for “life-or-death drugs.”


The number of new drug shortages reported this year has hit 213, two more than the record set for all of last year, according to the University of Utah Drug Information Service, which tracks the shortages.


The total is three times the roughly 70 shortages per year from 2003 to 2006. And dozens of shortages from before this year still are not resolved.


A recent AP investigation found at least 15 deaths in the past 15 months have been blamed on the shortages, because the right drug wasn’t available or because, while resorting to alternative treatments not normally used, staff made dosing errors or contaminated medicine being mixed by hand.


The shortages also have forced hospitals to give less-effective treatments, delayed surgeries and cancer treatments, and left patients in unnecessary pain. That’s resulted in complications and longer, more-expensive hospital stays, extra costs that hospitals will soon have to pass on to insurers and patients.


Multiple factors are at play in the shortages, although the Food and Drug Administration says the biggest cause is manufacturing quality problems that cause drugmakers to shut down production while they make improvements. In addition, the generic drug industry has been consolidating and some generic drugmakers have stopped making certain drugs because they make little profit. So when the maker of a particular generic drug stops producing it, other companies don’t have enough capacity or time to make up the shortfall before the halt starts hurting patients.


The letters cited a specific drug allegedly marketed to hospitals by each distributor and the price charged to hospitals, such as the cancer drug cytarabine. It normally sells for about $12 per vial but was allegedly offered by Allied Medical Supply Inc. of Miami for more than $990 per vial.


At PRN, the Rockville distributor, Greenwald said he’s not making a big profit, citing one case where he had to pay $399 for a cancer drug that would normally sell for $30, because of the layers of distributors that handled the drug and added their own profit before his company purchased it.


NeilS — In light of evidence like this, we must truly consider what we value as Americans.  Yes, we are competitive, tough, and have an entrepreneurial spirit that surpasses any nation, but when the lines of money versus morality begin to blur, we need to reassess.  We all know that the health care industry is in serious disarray as we spend more than any other country on health service, but achieve sub par care.  There is clearly something to be said when capitalism meets the price of a human life.  Is saving the life of a loved one worth paying nearly any price, even if that means paying 25 times more for a drug?  I think almost everyone would say yes.  Should companies be able to profiteer off of this human vulnerability and emotion?  Surely I am not suggesting that these companies are evil, but something is not working properly in the system when women suffering from breast cancer or children suffering from leukemia cannot get the drugs they need to live.