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Some Chicago area hospitals forced to prioritize cancer patients amid drug shortage

Some Chicago area hospitals forced to prioritize cancer patients amid drug shortage
Some Chicago area hospitals forced to prioritize cancer patients amid drug shortage 02:32

CHICAGO (CBS) – After calls from leaders like U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the Food and Drug Administration will begin importing cancer treatment drugs that are in short supply.

The shortage stems from manufacturing problems, unexpected demand spikes, and tight ingredient supplies.

"Receiving a cancer diagnosis is distressing enough, but receiving a cancer diagnosis and being told there is a drug that can save you, but they can't get their hands on it because of a shortage is simply unacceptable in America," Durbin said. "We must do better."

CBS 2's Sara Machi found out some hospitals are still forced to prioritize patients, picking who will get the life-saving drugs and who will not.

Anne Spratt said she has lived with cancer for eight years, the vast majority of it labeled "stage four incurable." But after several aggressive treatments, she was on maintenance drugs until April, when her doctor warned her she would need chemotherapy drugs which are in short supply.

Machi: "When you tell people about this, are they surprised?"

Spratt: "Oh, people are absolutely horrified."

They'd hope to use carboplatin, but would rely on cisplatin as a backup, which is also limited recently. Then, after two rounds of carboplatin, another call came.

"I said, 'What do you mean he can't have it?'" Spratt said. "He said, 'Well, I've been told you are not a priority patient , that we are prioritizing patients and with your disease advancement, you are not a priority to receive this medication, and we're hoping to find a different plan.'"

Machi: "What was that moment like, when you heard 'not a priority'?"

Spratt: "It was horrible. I feel like somebody is determining my fate."

It's something a lot of Spratt's peers at the Cancer Support Center in Homewood are worried about.

"It is super frustrating," said Shamiah Byrd, the program manager and former patient. "It is almost like you're telling someone I am diminishing whatever hope you have left."

CBS 2 reached out to Spratt's medical providers about the shortage. University of Chicago Medicine said "we are following professional societies' recommended guidelines," and added they're "engaging clinical medical ethicists to work alongside our care team to prioritize patients equitably and ethically."

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network released data this week that shows "93% of the centers are currently experiencing a shortage of carboplatin, and 70% have a similar lack of cisplatin."

Spratt said she's on less-aggressive maintenance treatments and hopes there will be carboplatin for her next visit. She's also hoping the disease does not spread during the shortage.

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