Schumer proposes legislation to address drug shortages

Jan 6, 2012

Senator Charles Schumer came to Buffalo Thursday to speak about what medical leaders say is an unprecedented level of medication shortages in the past year.  Schumer is also introducing a three-part proposal to address the issue.

Standing in the pharmacy within Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Schumer suggested that pharmaceutical manufacturers, when deciding to discontinue production of a drug, often do not give ample warning that lets hospitals ensure they're stocked.  Part one of his plan is to establish, through the Food & Drug Administration, an early warning system that helps avoid shortages.

Parts two and three of the plan cover profiteering:  under Schumer's plan it would be illegal to price gouge when selling life-saving medications.  In addition, Schumer is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate third party companies that often buy up quantities of medications then sell them for significant profits.

"When there's a shortage on these drugs, somebody will come and try to buy it up everywhere and then sell it at a huge price and jack up the price," Senator Schumer said. "That's outrageous, and they do it.  Sometimes, drugs to treat heart conditions and cancer were marked up over 4,000 percent by someone trying to, if you will, corner the market on these drugs."

At the senator's side was Dr. Donald Trump, president and CEO of Roswell Park Cancer Institute.  He told reporters crowded into the pharmacy that drug shortages not only affect hospitals but also research centers.  He explained that his own trial was among the projects jeopardized by drug shortages.

"This is a trial using a commercially available drug that is in very short supply," said Dr. Trump, "We had to suspend that trial, not be able to offer it or consider offering it to patients while we could husband the small amount of drug we had to continue on patients who were already on the trial.  This is a real world example of treatments not being available."

Schumer noted that while there are laws banning profiteering, they protect commodities such as precious metals but currently do not cover pharmaceuticals.