November 14, 2011 / 11:01 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. doctors group supports fight on drug shortages

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The American Medical Association threw its support behind government efforts to ensure the supply of lifesaving medicines but stopped short of recommending financial penalties against drug companies.

The influential doctors’ lobby voted on Monday to back legislation to create an advance warning system of impending shortages that has been stuck in Congress.

The resolution, which declared the problem a national public health emergency, was a top agenda item at an AMA meeting in New Orleans. A worsening shortage of medicines used in chemotherapy, among other drugs, has forced doctors to delay treatment or use second-best alternatives.

The AMA also signed off on a plan to lobby for the Food and Drug Administration and Congress to require drugmakers to develop contingency plans and other ways to continuously supply vital drugs and vaccines.

A draft resolution had additionally recommended financial penalties on drug companies that do not increase their production of medicines in short supply within 30 days.

“It wouldn’t make a difference, they’d just quit,” delegate Dr. Floyd Buras Jr., president of the Louisiana State Medical Society, told Reuters ahead of the vote.

Instead, the AMA aligned with other medical groups in suggesting financial incentives for drugmakers to continue production of scarce medicines, which are often cheaper and older generic drugs with low profit margins.

Other delegates agreed that the problem may be too dire to threaten drugmakers with penalties at the risk of giving them grounds to quit production altogether. A new study shows that although 100 companies supply the drugs that are experiencing shortages, half of them come from just one or two companies.

Some 200 drugs are in shortage in the United States, compared with 56 that were reported as scarce to the Food and Drug Administration in 2006. The deepening problem led President Barack Obama to sign an executive order to address it.

The order reflects congressional proposals but lacks the authority of legislation.

“That’s the president talking to his agencies. That’s not a change in a law and you need a law,” said Bona Benjamin, director of medication use quality improvement at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

She said the AMA’s support could help the pending legislation given the organization’s considerable influence.

Thanks to voluntary early notices of upcoming drug shortages, such as would be required by the law, the FDA said it has been able to prevent 99 shortages so far this year.

Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Steve Orlofsky

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