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Massachusetts ranks high among states suffering critical drug shortages

Shortages of critical drugs used to treat cancer, infections, cardiovascular disease, and pain have become a nationwide issue, but the shortages are particularly acute in Massachusetts. According to a new report by a health care analytics company, IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, the supply of 64 injectable drugs in the state over three months this summer declined by a third, compared to last year.

The IMS report found that a dozen other states faced similarly steep drops in the availability of sterile injectable drugs.

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“The overall fluctuation and variability in the volume supply of the vast majority of drugs is very small, and changes generally occur gradually -- unless there’s a specific safety issue or a very dramatic event has occurred,” said Murray Aitken, executive director of the institute. “When we look at these drugs, which are relatively older, well-established drugs used consistently in treatment protocols, when we see those kind of drugs dropping by 30 percent, we know that is having an impact on patient care.”

The drug shortage, which mostly affects generic drugs, has affected local hospitals, particularly in cancer care where alternatives may not be as effective. The issue garnered national attention, including an executive order by President Obama last month, which set forth steps for the US Food and Drug Administration to take to try to address the issue. The agency plans to increase its reporting of possible future drug shortages and expedite reviews of applications from new drug suppliers or manufacturing changes intended to address gaps in supply.

The reasons given for the shortage have included manufacturing problems and a lack of capacity in the pipeline, meaning that if a production line goes offline a company may not have the infrastructure to increase capacity. The IMS report found that half of the products in short supply have only one or two suppliers.

Aitken said that an early-warning system that includes sharing of information between both regulators, pharmacists, and suppliers, could help companies ensure there was enough supply and also help alert doctors and patients to possible future problems, allowing them to find alternatives.

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @globecarolynyj.
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