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I-Team: Out of Stock - Prescription for Death?

WESTON (CBS4) - Imagine being told you have a life threatening disease,  but the drug you need is "Out of Stock?"

It's a message being delivered to South Floridians young and old in need of everything to fight cancer to blindness.

"Everyday I try and memorize what my kids look like. I don't ever want to forgot that." (cries) "What if I do go blind?"

Jennifer LaCongnata is going blind. Her daughter decorated the patch that covers an eye that can no longer focus… a reminder that each passing day, this Clearwater mom loses more of her sight.

"It's scary," declared Jennifer

LaCongnata's anguish is not over her body's inability to absorb vitamin A--- but over the fact that she can't get her hands on a single dose of  the  intravenous drug that would keep her from going blind. Why?  It's out of stock.

"If someone is out there drowning you have got to throw them, throw me a life jacket. They are not. They are letting me drown," LaCongnata told Gillen.

In  Miami, the mom of  a 14-year old struck with leukemia, can't get over the shock… not just that her daughter had cancer, but that doctors had to warn her that there was a nationwide shortage of the chemotherapy drugs that would be the key to saving her child's life.

"How can, in this day and age, in this country, we not have a medicine that we need for cancer that we know can cure this cancer? How can it not be there?" Marta Pallidine asked.

What's going on?  An I-Team investigation reveals that here is an epidemic of drug shortages in this country, so widespread, affecting so many different drugs, made by so many manufacturers, that system insiders described it to Gillen as a national public health crisis.

Connie Chan, Director of Pharmacy Systems at Baptist Hospital Miami agrees. "The problem is that it's just not the number of drugs that are short, which basically has tripled since 2006, but it's also the type of drugs that are on the short list. Drugs that we use every single day to treat our patients. "

Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs is an anesthesiologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston. " In the past year, 90% of anesthesiologists faced one drug shortage. That's an astonishing number!"

According to the FDA, a primary cause of the shortage is contamination discovered  in production lines.

Another  reason??  Drug companies are pulling out of making certain products where profit margins are slim.

The shortage is opening the door to a gray market. Where there's need, there can be greed.

"And the impact from the hospital perspective is the price gouging. For cancer drugs, heart medications it's as high as 3-4000 percent of what we normally pay," Chan explained.

Gratefully, Marta's daughter, Caroline, got her drugs in time.

"She's in remission. She's back in school and she's dancing. She's back on her toes," said Pallidine.

Meanwhile, Jennifer's been told her drug won't be available until June. The only version of the drug she needs, being produced in this country, and notT out of stock... is for cattle.

"You can die from this," Jennifer said. "If it gets that bad you can die."

"How old are you?" asked Gillen.

Jennifer responded, "I'm 41. I have a lot of life ahead of me. I just want to see it."

What's the word from drug manufacturers? Overall, the industry says that with major mergers, there are a  few key pharmaceuticals, and if a snag hits the production line the impact  is huge. Also the advent of generics has many drug makers  moving on and seeking new patents.

All this, they say, as they face shortages overseas in the raw materials used in their drugs.

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