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Drug Shortage Prompts Search For Alternative Treatments

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(credit: AP)

(credit: AP)

DENVER (CBS4) – Patients across the country are worrying they won’t get the vital treatments they need.

For six months Gretchen Burkey, 75, was taking Doxil to help battle a rare form of ovarian cancer. While on the drug she had a stable disease, meaning the cancer wasn’t growing nor shrinking.

“It was almost magic,” Gretchen said. “It was so good and I felt wonderful.”

But the treatment had to be altered this summer after Doxil suddenly became scarce. She and her oncologists took a break from the treatment for several months only to find the cancer growing once again. But Gretchen could no longer get Doxil.

“And I thought that’s kind of like murdering someone,” Gretchen said. “I mean literally.”

Now she’s trying a new chemotherapy drug that looks to be promising. Others aren’t so lucky. A critical shortage of more than 200 medications for chemotherapy, infections and other ailments has sent doctors scrambling nationwide to find substitutes.

“This is really an unprecedented problem in health care in the United States,” said Dr. John Burke, oncologist for the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers.

The drugs are mostly generics. The shortages are caused by a number of factors, including manufacturing delays and quality problems. Some companies ceased making some generics because profits are slim.

“From what I’m hearing, there’s not an end in sight from these shortages,” Burke said.

Earlier this week, Food and Drug Administration representatives met with medical and consumer groups to discuss the lack of medication and strategies to remedy the situation. In the meantime, doctors ration and use whatever’s available.

“So far we’ve done okay with that, but it’s been not by much,” Burke said.

“I’m not going to let myself worry,” Gretchen said. “I’m going to try this other one and do the best I can. I don’t give up easily.”

Other local hospitals such as Lutheran Medical Center and Saint Anthony’s have been able to manage through the shortage by substituting treatments or contacting other local hospitals that may have the needed drugs.

Solicitors have been known to take advantage of the shortage. One hospital reported it was approached by vendors who claim they have the drug that’s in short supply, but are selling it at many times the normal price.

- By Young Kim for CBSDenver.com

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