Drug Shortages Send Doctors and Pharmacists Scrambling

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Dr. Ibrahim Thorlie, chief of medicine at Princess Christian Maternity Hospital, has grown increasingly frustrated with the shortage of drugs, power outages, and low pay for his staff. July 27, 2009.
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Over the last decade, drug shortages have sent doctors and pharmacists scrambling to find alternative medications for a wide range of diseases, including pediatric cancer and Crohn’s disease.

Dr. Yoram Unguru, a pediatric oncologist at Children's Hospital at Sinai and professor at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, and Scott Knoer, chief pharmacy officer for the Cleveland Clinic, discuss the complicated ethical issues that arise from these shortages and their ideas for clinical and policy solutions to ensure that patients get the care they deserve.

"The problem is, at least in pediatric oncology, when you're taking care of kids with cancer, there are very few alternatives out there for these life-saving drugs and regimens," Dr. Unguru says.

Dr. Unguru and his colleagues created a framework to deal with these shortages in pediatric oncology. As he tells The Takeaway, "These types of decisions should never be made by any one individual, no matter how smart she or he is. You can imagine that you want the perspectives of a broad group of people. So one of the recommendations that we actually have is that every institution have a committee that has broad representation," including physicians, pharmacists, patient advocates, social workers and others.