Shortage of Leukemia Drug Forcing Hospitals to Turn Some Patients Away

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"When I first heard about the shortage last week, I thought there wouldn't be enough," said Shari Maglich. "I was told not to worry, and the treatment hasn't been cancelled yet. It's in the back of my mind, but I keep thinking positive."

While Payton is fortunate, Hord said he and his colleagues take things day by day.

"I have never seen a situation like the one we're in right now," said Hord. "I can't look much beyond the next treatment."

Cytarabine and Other Drug shortages Concern Doctors

Back in December, ABC News reported that hospitals were facing the biggest drug shortage in decades. Most of the drugs were injectables, and included the potent chemotherapy drug doxorubicin.

In his email to other oncologists, Kantarjian expressed his frustration at the number of drug shortages. According to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists in Bethesda, Md., there are currently more than 170 drug shortages.

The FDA says there are a number of reasons for the shortages of injectable drugs.

"FDA has continued to see increased numbers over the past several years of shortages involving older sterile injectable drugs. There are several reasons for this including the limited number of firms making these older sterile injectables, capacity constraints at the manufacturers which often preclude ramping up production, and the overall complexity of the manufacturing process for injectable drugs," the agency said.

An editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association also blames the shortages on a lack of profitability. Many of the drugs are generic, expensive to produce but not profitable to sell.

But the manufacturers of cytarabine say they are committed to replenishing supply, and the FDA says it continues to work with the companies to ensure that happens.

Hospira says it started shipping product last month and plans to ship more this week, Bedford says it expects to release 82,000 vials in the coming weeks and APP says it will start distributing more vials next week.

Additional reporting by Diane Mendez, Richard Besser, M.D., Jane Kurtzman, Lana Zak, Gerry Wagschal and Gitika Ahuja.

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