We’ve been issuing warnings for some time about the dire ramifications of the legal and regulatory stifling of innovators and producers of life-saving medicines. An especially unpleasant surprise for those who get sick.
It doesn’t make the mainstream news, but hospital pharmacies experience an average of one new drug shortage every 5 to 6 days, leaving millions without access to needed medications! Right now, 210 different drugs shortages exist in U.S. hospitals, and the types of drugs and duration of these shortages are affecting the ability of hospitals to adequately care for patients.
Unfortunately, medicine is so regulated that most professionals in that field are reluctant to make a public stink. Best to go with the flow and accept the worsening situation as “inevitable,” like the weather.
The Drug Supply Mess Is Shrugged Off by Most –
Until They Are in Need
Drug shortages have become so commonplace, hospitals actually take them for granted. They usually happen because of manufacturing disruptions. And, they are usually temporary. But that’s cold comfort to those who need their meds now.
This is one of those situations that’s difficult for people like you and me to safeguard ourselves against. Most of the drugs in short supply are used to treat specific, serious diseases like cancer or exotic infections. These drugs aren’t like prescription antibiotics, painkillers, or medicines for chronic conditions where you might be able to find an alternative or build a small stockpile against interruptions in the supply chain.
Most of the drug shortages are injectable drugs that must be administered at the hospital or in your doctor’s office. And, most of these drugs are meant to treat conditions that are difficult to anticipate. In other words, you won’t need these drugs unless the unexpected happens, and any shortage could cost you your life.
We do have a few ideas that can help you come through such a situation in better shape than most, and I’ll get to those in a minute. But, first, let’s take a closer look at why these shortages are happening… and why you shouldn’t expect them to go away any time soon.
A Crisis Caused by the Corrupt Political Class
We bet it won’t come as a big surprise to you that the cause for many of these shortages can be traced back to government regulatory issues. The free-market system of supply and demand tends to work very, very well – until government regulars stick their grubby fingers in. Once again, over-involvement from the government is not only causing major inconveniences and disrupting the market… it’s actually putting the lives of our neighbors and loves ones in harm’s way.
Several factors are at work:
First, most of these shortages are happening to generic drugs that are traditionally more affordable than brand-name drugs that work in the same way. One reason behind the shortages is a lack of profitability. Several generic drug manufacturers have recently stopped producing some of the affected drugs because they were not able to earn a profit from their production.
Think about that. These companies have the opportunity to produce life-saving drugs… drugs that some people obviously need. But, they’re unable to make a profit. You can bet government regulations are affecting either pricing or their overall ability to compete in the market. Rather than take the loss, these companies opted to stop production altogether.
The Government-Created Drug Mess
Has Opened the Door for Rip-Off Artists
And, of course whenever shortages occur, you’ll find people exploiting them. Enterprising individuals who got wind of these shortages are buying up large batches of the affected drugs from wholesalers and pharmacies, only to sell them back to hospitals at an exorbitant mark-up. More than half of hospitals interviewed by the Institute for Safe Medical Practices acknowledge purchasing drugs from “gray market” suppliers because it was the only way they could meet demand.
When one company stops manufacturing generic versions of injectable drugs, the incentive for others to step in to fill the gap dries up as well. It’s expensive to set up the manufacturing process for such drugs, and the process of gaining FDA approval for production is costly.
Quality issues are another cause behind shortages. In addition to some companies shutting down production altogether, others have had entire batches pulled from the market because of quality-control lapses. The disturbing element is that many generic drugs use active ingredients that are produced in overseas plants that have meager quality oversight, so even the generic drugs that are making it to the market may not have been made in factories that have been inspected and approved for quality.
We’re not saying that quality control is a bad thing when it comes to pharmaceutical production. Far from it. We just find it ironic that drugs produced here in the U.S. are being pulled due to failing a single element of inspection, while drugs produced in other countries are allowed into our market when they may not have been inspected at all!
When the Best Healthcare System
in the World Fails
The sad result of this drug crisis is that many people aren’t able to get the best care for the diseases they are fighting against. For some people, these circumstances have been fatal. Some patients have died directly from the effects of not being able to get the treatment they need. Others have died because of errors in preparing alternative medications for treatment.
In addition to potentially life-threatening consequences, these medicine shortages are also leaving patients in more pain than they would otherwise suffer and causing an undue amount of stress. If this were occurring in other countries, you can bet that U.S. and U.N. aid would pour in to provide relief. But here in our own communities and our own hospitals, this sad state of affairs is par for the course.
Cancer patients report being turned away when arriving for a scheduled treatment because the drug they need is not available on that day. Other patients experiencing a relapse of cancer are finding themselves on wait lists for Doxil, the first line of defense against resurgent cancers.
How You Can Prepare in the Event
that Medical Shortages Affect You
Right now, the bulk of the medicine shortages are among sterile, injectable drugs. But, that doesn’t mean that shortages won’t spread to affect other types of drugs, especially generic drugs where profit margins are thin.
It’s in your best interest to talk to your doctor about acquiring at least a 90-day supply of any drugs that you take on a regular basis – a six-month supply would be better. Building up a store of basic antibiotics – the type you use against wound infections – is also a good plan if your doctor is willing to cooperate.
The best way to go about this is to be direct. Let your doctor know that you’re concerned about drug shortages and want to protect yourself. Show him know that you take the issue seriously, that you have a plan for storing the drugs safely, and that you understand the importance of rotating through your stored supplies so that the drugs retain their potency. In the case of antibiotics, let the doctor know that you understand the dangers associated with misusing antibiotics and you only intend to have them on hand in case of a prolonged emergency or drug shortage that compromises your access to medical care
Should an unexpected illness strike you or someone in your family, hit the ground running. Begin researching all your possible treatment options immediately. Don’t wait for your doctor to tell you the possibilities, or the limitations, for two reasons:
First, she may not be fully informed of all the options – there’s a tremendous amount of research published every day and it’s impossible for a single doctor to keep up with it all.
Second, the illness you’re facing may be best treated by a drug that is in short supply. If that’s the case, you need to know how to best procure the drug in question and what your best alternatives are. When it comes to health problems, often time is of the essence, so it’s important that you learn as much as you can as quickly as you can.
Finally, begin taking steps to protect your overall health. The best way to avoid the dangers of drug shortages is to avoid getting sick in the first place! That means eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. It means taking a multi-vitamin and an omega-3 essential fatty acid supplement. It means getting more active, getting enough sleep, and finding healthy ways to cope with stress.
All signs point to a failing medical system that might not be there if and when you need. Start taking action now to prevent yourself from relying on it.
Being prepared means anticipating how failures in the system might affect you and taking steps to safeguard yourself while you have the fullest access to the most resources.