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"Monumental impact:" Chemo drug shortage pauses Sacramento patient's treatments as cancer grows

Chemo drug shortage pauses Sacramento patient's treatments as cancer grows
Chemo drug shortage pauses Sacramento patient's treatments as cancer grows 02:07

SACRAMENTO -- A local cancer patient is now patiently waiting as a nationwide shortage in chemotherapy drugs has halted his treatments. 

For Michael Griffith of Sacramento, finding the joy in every day has been as crucial a part of his cancer diagnosis as chemo. 

"But I really don't know how long I can allow it to keep growing," said Griffith. 

Last month he went in to his doctor's office for chemotherapy, but couldn't get it. The drug he needs, cisplatin, is unavailable.

"And I said, 'Why?' And they just said, 'Well there's a worldwide shortage," said Griffith. "Just in that short amount of time, it's already grown."

Griffith has stage four cholangiocarcinoma. It's a bile duct cancer that's rare and aggressive.  

He's now missed about five doses of cisplatin, one of three treatments he gets on a regular, rotating basis. 

Griffith is not alone.

According to the FDA, 14 cancer drugs are currently in nationwide shortage. 

The main two, carboplatin and cisplatin, are both widely used for a variety of cancers.

"I had no idea this was going on, I didn't know it would affect us and I didn't know to ask why," said Griffith's fiancé Nikki Smith. "There's something wrong here we need to change this."

Dr. Eleanora Teplinsky, a medical oncologist with Valley Health System, agrees there's an urgency behind the ongoing shortages. 

"This has monumental impact," Teplinsky said. 

"Have you ever seen anything like this before?" asked CBS13 reporter Ashley Sharp. 

"No. On this level and magnitude, I have never seen anything like this," said Teplinsky. 

The main question -- what's causing the shortage? 

It's impossible to pin it down to one thing, but a manufacturing shutdown at a plant in India and an increased need for the cancer drugs both factor in.

"This combination of older plants, no redundancy, less profit motive for those manufactured in the States and increasing need leads to these shortages which have been going on, off-and-on, for at least the last decade," said Dr. Bill Dahut, Chief Scientific Officer of the American Cancer Society. 

A fear that's top of mind for both Dahut and Teplinsky is that this shortage has no end in sight -- asking, what will be the long-term impacts of disrupted treatments? 

Right now, there's no real answer. Doctors are now faced with the difficult decision of rationing or cutting back treatments for patients due to limited-to-no supply. 

"We can't just take one drug out and put a new one in. It's not that simple as substituting one medication for another," said Teplinsky. 

"This is a real problem. And unless something is done about this, this is going to be a recurring problem," said Dahut. 

It's why Dahut says the ACS is urging Congress to take emergency action.

"I think we are going to have patients lose their lives for lack of availability," Dahut said. 

And for people like Griffith and his family, having no answers from doctors about how his treatment moves forward without cisplatin isn't an option. 

"Time is really of the essence," Griffith said. "I need to do whatever I can to make sure I'm there for the people I love for a long time to come."

He's one of many cancer patients, estimated at around 100,000, running out of time to wait in the uncertainty of these shortages. 

"I would encourage everybody to continue to push for this change. Without it, who knows where we are going to be. It may get a lot worse before it gets better," said Griffith. 

His and Smith's goal in speaking out is to shine a spotlight on the issue not just for their family's needs, but for other patients impacted. 

"They're not gonna make a change unless they have to," said Smith. "I've been writing to the White House almost every day. Are they going to answer me? No. But when this comes across their table maybe they'll say, '500,000 people are writing us about this every day, we have to do something,'" said Smith. 

Kaiser Permanente, Griffith's medical provider, issued this statement to CBS13 regarding the shortage: 

"At this time, there is no definitive information on when supply of Cisplatin will return to pre-shortage levels. We are carefully managing the sustainability of our current supplies of Cisplatin in order to continue delivering high-quality care for our patients.

"Our priority is always the health and well-being of our patients. We recognize any time there is a national shortage of a medication, like Cisplatin, that patients who are affected may feel anxious. We want every patient to fully understand and be comfortable with their treatment plan. Our physicians and pharmacists are working with their patients to ensure their treatment plan is as effective as possible and to identify alternative treatments when necessary. "

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