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Drug shortages imperil patient care

NPR, May 3, 2011

Modern medicines can be lifesavers. But they don't do much good if patients can't get them. And, these days, drug shortages are a real problem. Turns out that a record number of medicines --to treat conditions ranging from cancer to life-threatening infections --are in short supply, the Washington Post reports. There were shortages of 211 drugs last year, three times the number in 2006. One of the worst problems is with cytarabine, a medicine for various forms of leukemia and lymphoma. Shortages of the antibiotic amikacin and acyclovir, an antiviral, have "contributed to patient deaths from infections that were only sensitive" to those drugs, according to a 2010 survey of more than 1,800 health professionals conducted by the nonprofit Institute for Safe Medication Practices. Some drugs used in surgery, such as the anesthetic propofol, have also been hard to find.