NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – While this shortage of chemotherapy drugs stretches across the country, 22News looks at how the limited amounts of potentially life-saving drugs are impacting cancer care in our area.
It’s a problem, so acute it was recognized by the Biden Administration just last month. The White House noted there’s a shortage of 15 cancer drugs due to manufacturing and supply chain issues.
22News asked Pharmacy Director Michelle Kososki at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, to rate the shortage experienced locally on a scale, 5 being a critical shortage and 1 being no shortage at all, “right now I would probably say it is a four. We only have a very small supply of one particular drug.”
Pharmacy Director Michelle Kososki said drug shortages are not uncommon in the healthcare industry however, when faced with potentially life-saving drugs it can get complicated, “Anytime there is a shortage, there’s a risk of not being able to treat patients. Obviously, that is something we want to avoid and we work to the best of our ability with creative solutions to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Nurse Manager Lisa Martensson at Mass General Care Center at Cooley Dickinson Hospital told 22News, “There’s always the ethical issues of who gets the drug that’s available. It’s supply and demand as you said and looking at what folks had for their disease which ones needed to be treated faster than others based on the aggressiveness of their disease. Those things played in but it was a really difficult decision to sit down and try and decide who would get the drug. We were never in a position where we had to deny anybody.”
Cancer patient Norman Uzdavinis of Whately said he was very concerned when he first heard of the shortage, “I had wondered where in the chemotherapy I would be at, would it have to be delayed for months or years if possible.”
Uzdavinis has not had his medical care compromised but feels for those who have, “I feel for them. I know what I’m going through and that everything is here so it’s perfect for me, but there’s a lot out there that are not as fortunate. I know that.”
“Healthcare providers here were able to mitigate the shortage by using a couple of different tactics. For example, they could switch up a patient’s medication regimen,” Nurse Manager Lisa Martensson said.
“What we did do was use drugs that were in the same classification but not necessarily that specific drug. There are also drug regimens where we could switch around the order to which we gave the drugs so if there was a drug that wasn’t available we are able to do one of the drugs that was available first and do that second drug second. That was able to work out so people didn’t do without and they were able to get what they needed,” Martensson continued.
According to the FDA, the shortage started when one of the major manufacturers of the chemo drug, Accord Healthcare, a company based in India, had to shut down after problems complying with good manufacturing practices were found during an inspection. Now, there is an increased demand from other companies that make these kinds of drugs.
22News contacted some other of the manufacturers of these drugs. Pfizer said they are increasing production by about 40 percent to meet this increased demand.