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Hospital Discusses Major Prescription Drug Shortage

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The University of Maryland's women's basketball coach helped bring the problem of prescription drug shortages to the national spotlight. Now a prominent local hospital tells Maryland lawmakers how the growing problem has impacted their work.

Derek Valcourt explains how a drug shortage nearly affected surgeries at Anne Arundel Medical Center.

This is a problem that hospitals and patients nationwide are encountering as certain medications are becoming increasingly hard to get their hands on. As doctors at Anne Arundel Medical Center prepared for surgeries on a late November weekend, they became concerned about their low supply of a drug needed to reverse anesthesia for patients after surgery. In fact, supply was so low doctors considered cancellations to their scheduled surgeries.

"Fortunately, supply was identified. No one's care was delayed but it's an example of how hospitals have to constantly monitor their supply of critical drugs," said Dr. Barry Meisenberg.

Drug shortages have become increasingly common. From 2005 to 2011, the number of drugs on the FDA's shortage list have more than tripled.

"I think the public needs to be concerned but not panicked," said Meisenberg. "Every hospital in the state, and I'm quite sure every hospital in the country, is experiencing the same sort of difficulty."

Doctors say several factors are to blame: manufacturing problems, drug companies eliminating some older drugs in favor of more profitable ones and middleman companies that buy up medications in short supply and reselling them at huge markups.

The issue gained national attention when University of Maryland basketball coach Brenda Frese and her husband spoke out after learning that a drug that helped treat their young son's leukemia was costly and in short supply.

Congressman Elijah Cummings has led the national charge to investigate drug shortages and find a solution, promising to crack down on profiteering wholesalers.

"I think if it's not criminal, it should be made a crime because basically what you're doing is stealing somebody's life," said Cummings.

Maryland state lawmakers are weighing into this hot topic with the Joint Committee on Health Care investigating whether there is any legislation they can pass to alleviate the drug shortage problem. The FDA has already tightened rules on drug manufacturers but doctors say more needs to be done.

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