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Hospitals have to make planning for shortages and triage part of everyday operations.
Dealing with drug shortages is a standard part of the logistics for hospitals in the U.S., according to pharmacists and to Joseph Flynn of Louisville-based Norton Cancer Institute.
The big shortage now is of two major drugs used in chemotherapy treatments.
"Cisplatin and carboplatin have come up short," Flynn said. " A lot of these are manufactured in other countries and they have a process of standards, or if there's issues in the process it can disrupt, especially if it is used so widely."
A Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs report says 80% of manufacturing facilities that produce these pharmaceuticals are located outside of the U.S.
Some say there is a solution out there. Flynn says the country has to find other producers.
"It really comes down to what happens on the local level, and more globally ... is how to impact that supply chain, such as opening your country to other agents like in China for instance," Flynn said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently working with Chinese drugmaker Qilu Pharmaceutical to import the cancer medication to help the U.S. supply.
In the short term, Canadian pharmaceutical company Apotex has been distributing injectable medication on a temporary basis since early June.
Experts say these tactics are needed. The National Cancer Institute reports cisplatin is prescribed to 10%-20% of all cancer patients and has a cure rate of over 90%.
And it's up to local treatment centers to determine how to stretch out their supply for their patients in the meantime, according to Tina Claypool, the clinical pharmacy supervisor of University of Louisville Health.
"So it's really looking at shifting things to what is available, and if there is only one medicine to treat one condition then we look at alternate strategies such as prioritizing, scheduling things, adjusting dosages ... planning and scheduling and preparing the products in a matter that reduces the waste of the product," Claypool said.
One of the nation's top cancer care groups, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, is now advising doctors with low quantities to administer them to patients with a better shot at a cure, and to deny them to patients with recurrent or widely spread disease.
However, at the Norton Cancer Institute, they've implemented ways to make their supply last in order to treat their patients — whether that's by extending the interval between drug doses, or using alternative drugs.
As for patients, experts say they need to be aware of these issues, and try to plan on their end for the future since there is no telling when this shortage will be resolved.
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