Prescription drug shortages

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From sick newborns to cancer patients, some Americans cannot get the drugs they need. But there is an on-going fight to change that.

Today, we hear from experts on the front lines of the ongoing struggle with prescription drug shortages.

Doctor Sandra Kweder heads the FDA's Office of New Drugs. She says quality control in manufacturing plants is causing nationwide recalls and massive drug shortages.

According to the American Society of Healthcare System Pharmacists, we've seen shortages just about quadruple from 74 in 2005 to 267 in 2011. The problem's hit every drug class. But the majority are generic sterile injectables. Medications used in everything from giving sick babies the nutrition they need to surgical anesthesia to cancer treatments. A government report finds while the injectables make up only a small percentage of the overall prescription drug market in 2011 they accounted for 74-percent of drug shortages.

Duke hospital pharmacist gene rhea says some of his colleagues compare it to working in a third world country. "On a daily basis, we probably only get in about 60 to 70 percent of the products that we order. It's kind of the new norm."

Doctor Rhea says for many patients, including ovarian cancer patients on Doxil, it's led to rationing. "Patients were put on waiting lists and it was a very difficult situation."

But getting Doxil and other crucial drugs back on track will take time. "It's not going away. It's really kind of reached a steady state."

A state many can't believe we've reached in America. "Who would have ever thought we'd be in this position?"

Reports attribute the drug shortage to 15 deaths in the U.S., including one man who died because the only antibiotic he responded to wasn't available. But Kweder says it's hard to figure out how many have been impacted by the shortages. She guesses the number to be in the hundreds of thousands if not millions.