Sanders Backs Bill to Relieve Prescription Drug Shortages

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 - Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has cosponsored bipartisan legislation to address critical shortages of drugs to treat many life-threatening illnesses.

"This legislation is a step forward in addressing drug shortages that have created a serious public health problem for many Vermonters and other Americans," said Sanders, a member of the Senate health committee.

Responding to requests from Fletcher Allen Health Care and doctors in Vermont, Sanders backed a bill by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). The measure would require that drug makers give early warnings of possible supply disruptions to the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA now collects some information voluntarily submitted by drug makers, but hospitals and patients continue to be caught off-guard by drug shortages. The bill also would direct the FDA to provide up-to-date public notification of shortages on its website.

The number of drug shortages has more than tripled over the last six years, jumping from 61 drug products in 2005 to more than 200 in 2011. The shortages include drugs prescribed by doctors to treat childhood leukemia, breast and colon cancer, infections and other diseases.

Experts blame the shortages on a number of factors, including market consolidation, production delays, unexpected increases in demand for a drug, and difficulties procuring raw materials. In some instances medications are in short supply because companies simply stopped making products that weren't profitable enough. The shortages in less expensive generic drugs have forced some health care providers to buy more expensive products.

"It is unacceptable, that in the United States of America today you could be taking a life-saving drug one day and find out it is no longer available the next day," Sanders said. "Drug manufacturers need to keep the public informed when they know that a drug supply is running low so alternative measures may be taken long before someone's health is in peril."