Drug Shortages Put Docs, Patients in Bind

DEA says idea that quotas cause shortages is "urban myth"

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    The federal government says it is not behind prescription-drug shortages.

    Some patients are making long drives to find their medication at local pharmacies, but the federal government said it is not behind the shortages.

    The Drug Enforcement Administration says manufacturing problems, drug recalls and supply problems between manufacturers and wholesalers who sell to pharmacies cause such shortages.

    Drug Shortages Put Patients in Tight Spot

    [DFW] Drug Shortages Put Patients in Tight Spot
    Some patients are making long drives to find their medication at local pharmacies.

    "We face a shortage every week," said George Hinsaw, a pharmacist at Texas Health Fort Worth. "It just varies by the week as to what the drug is."

    The pharmacy at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth maintains a board that shows all of the medications that are currently hard to find.

    Some drugs may only take a week to get, but others can take months.

    The DEA was quick to shoot down the suspicion by some pharmacists that DEA quotas restricting how many pills drug companies can make are responsible for shortages, saying the idea was "an urban myth."

    "There are no situations where the quota is an issue," said DEA spokesman Gary Boggs.

    Drug shortages can leave both patients and doctors in a bind.

    "A lot of our surgeons have had to switch to other drugs for surgery to use for sedation," Hinsaw said.

    Patients who have trouble finding their medications end up driving all over town looking for a pharmacy with their medicine in stock.

    Jason Leigh, who has battled chronic pain for 15 years after breaking his back in an accident, has trouble finding the medication that finally brought the pain under control. Hehas tried more than a dozen pharmacies.

    "And they said, 'No, none of your drug (is) available at all," he said.

    Leigh's doctor switched him to another medication, but he had side effects while taking it.

    "The wind was out of my sails completely," he said. "I could go to the bathroom or kitchen and just feel exhausted."

    Leigh found a pharmacy that can fill his prescription this month. But after that, he's back to guessing.

    "It's aggravating, and its too much to ask a patient to figure out," he said.

    Patients can ask their doctor if he or she is aware of any supply problems when they are prescribed a new medication and ask if there is a backup option. Doctors may also be able to switch between a generic and brand-name medicine to find a medication if it's in short supply.

    Patients may also want to call ahead to see if their medication is in stock, rather than spend time driving around.

    NBCDFW's Scott Friedman contributed to this report.