Organizing Against a Medication 'Gray Market'

By Abbie Ruzicka


Mar. 1, 2012


Medication shortages have become a problem nationwide. (Food and Drug Administration)

BOSTON — Massachusetts hospitals have been affected by a national prescription drug shortage that lawmakers, patients and health care workers are calling a crisis. The shortages include medicines used to treat various cancers as well as those used to control blood pressure and ADHD. It means a growing number of patients are not getting the medications they need. In extreme cases, patients have died. 
State Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez (D-Jamaica Plain), who heads the Joint Committee on Public Health, said the so-called gray market is a big part of the problem.
Drug companies sell to private distributors as well as hospitals. "Being private distributors they may, you know, calculate the market in a way that they see an increased demand," he said. "In some cases we've heard that they'll stockpile drugs — and not only stockpile drugs, they'll still try and get hospitals and others to purchase at up to 650 percent higher than the market list price." 
William Churchill, the director of pharmacy at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said the health care industry needs to enforce behavioral and ethical changes.
Nothing is going to change "until we get a coalition of pharmacists, physicians, big pharma companies, drug distributors, legislators, regulators and patients together that work collaboratively to work through this process so that we can ensure that drugs are made available in an appropriate way and no hoarding is going on," he said. "We have to come to agreements as health care providers and hospitals and pharmacies that we're going to try to do the right thing."

> > Hear EXTENDED AUDIO, including the first-hand experience of one cancer patient.

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