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Pharmacists share concerns about national chemotherapy drug shortage

Shortages in chemo drugs have caused treatment plans in the U.S. to be altered, with U.S. health authorities authorizing imports of drugs from China.
Posted at 6:41 PM, Jun 20, 2023

The FDA has given approval for chemotherapy drugs to be imported from China. 

The decision comes months after the U.S. faced one of the largest drug shortages in recent history.

Physicians working in Baltimore say they have no idea how long the shortage will last or when they will begin seeing an increase in supply.

"We wish we could know more, but often we don’t know — it's a week to week thing, or day to day thing as pharmacy orders the drugs," said Dawn Stefanik, infusion nurse manager at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. 

They say part of the problem is that there are not enough manufacturing plants to create the generic drugs that are widely used to treat the majority of cancers.

"There used to be a lot of generic makers in the United States — there were probably three, four, five even, five years ago — and now we're down to like one generic manufacturer," said Stefanik.

Because of the shortages of multiple chemotherapy drugs, experts say a lot of treatment plans have to be evaluated and even changed to make sure patients are still getting treated.

In some cases, treatment is even postponed simply because hospitals don’t have enough to treat every patient.

"Sometimes some of these challenging situations force us to move to something else. It's a very difficult situation for the families and for the providers," said Bishal Bista, a lead clinical pharmacist at GBMC Cancer Center.

"That causes a problem because when someone is on their treatment regimen and you have 'x' number of cycles prescribed, and they can only get through two of six, because we don’t have the drug, then ... we all have to figure out what are we going to do," says Stefanik.

Dr. Bista says they are tracking treatment plans closely and making decisions weekly to provide the best patient care they can during this time.

"Our doctors, our health care providers, are working very hard to take care of their patients," says  Bista. 

Meanwhile, the FDA has approved the import of the drug cisplatin from China, one of the first steps in attempting to replenish the supply while U.S. government leaders work on a long term solution.

This story was originally published by Ja Nai Wright at Scripps News Baltimore.