Nation & World

Cancer patients hit by shortage of drugs

Ron Autry, a Madera, Calif., police sergeant, is caught in a prescription-drug shortage nightmare.

Autry, 52, was diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer at the end of July after a routine colonoscopy found the disease. Another test showed it had spread to his liver. His doctor prescribed four injectable chemotherapy drugs.

But at his first chemotherapy appointment in August, one of the drugs was not available. And at his second treatment, another drug couldn't be found. Autry couldn't miss another dose.

His doctor, Ravi D. Rao, was blunt, Autry said. "He said, 'the drug directly relates to how long you're going to live.' "

A severe and growing nationwide shortage of prescription drugs is making it a struggle for patients to get the medications they need.

Doctors and pharmacists say drugs of all types can be hard to find. But, supplies of lifesaving cancer chemotherapy agents are at the top of the list.

Most of the cancer medications are generic, injectable drugs used for years with good results. "These are workhorse drugs that we use every day," said Rao, an oncologist at the Hematology-Oncology Med Group in Fresno.

On a day last week, Rao had five patients, including Autry, affected by shortages. "The last six months or so it's much more common and much more acute."

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