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Drug shortages on rise, some for cancer

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. hospitals are running out of many medications -- many crucial chemotherapy medications -- Food and Drug Administration officials say.

In 2010, there were 178 drug shortages reported to the FDA, 132 of which involved sterile injectable drugs.

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This year, the FDA says there has been increasing number of shortages, especially those involving older sterile injectable drugs involving cancer drugs, anesthetics, drugs needed for emergency medicine and electrolytes needed for patients on intravenous feeding.

There are many reasons for the shortages. Production delays at the manufacturer are often due to delays in receiving raw materials -- often from out of the country and often due to contamination, FDA officials say.

Discontinuations are another factor contributing to shortages.

"The FDA can't require a firm to keep making a drug it wants to discontinue. Sometimes these older drugs are discontinued by companies in favor of newer, more profitable drugs," the FDA says on its Web site.

"With fewer firms making older sterile injectable drugs, there are a limited number of production lines that can make these drugs. The raw material suppliers the firms use are also limited in the amount they can make due to capacity issues at their facilities. This small number of manufacturers and limited production capacity for older sterile injectables, combined with the long lead times and complexity of the manufacturing process for injectable drugs, results in these drugs being vulnerable to shortage."

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If one company has a problem or ends production, it is difficult for the remaining firms to increase output quickly and a shortage occurs, the FDA says.

On its Web site, http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/DrugShortages/ucm050792.htm, the FDA provides information on drug shortages provided voluntarily by manufacturers.

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