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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Just a month ago, doctors had to delay cancer treatments because of a drug shortage. But now there is another problem.
For a child battling cancer, a chain link construction paper strand made by friends brings a bright spot to Owen McMaster's day. "Everyday I go to one of those chains and I pull it off and I read it," he said. "They just say things that are either funny or encouraging, or something to cheer me up."
Friends and family made enough links to supply a smile each day for the next three years, or the length of Owen's remaining cancer treatments. But the cancer drugs that keep the 12-year-old well, are in short supply. "It's unique in the fact that we live in this country and we know how to treat the disease but we don't have the proper agents to treat it with. You think of that more with a third world country, not with United States," said Brian Yarberry, Director of Clinical Pharmacy at Kosair Children's Hospital.
For the past few months there has been a shortage of the drug methotrexate because of problems with manufacturing. "There was a lot of newspaper reports, it got on the national news, the companies really called to action," said Yarberry, "several of them increased production, the imported drugs, they released some they had quarantined."
The FDA stepped in to help -- but there is a new problem. Methotrexate does not work alone.
"When you give this drug, it's very toxic. You give it for a short period and then you start to rescue the patient. The rescue drug is leucovorin, which basically reverses the drug. It's on short supply now," said Yarberry.
The oral supply is stable, but the preferred intravenous version is not. Patients like Owen, can't take the oral dose. "If the rescue drug is only in a pill and you have nausea, if you vomit it, then you're not getting the rescue drug," said Beth McMasters, Owen's mom.
To prevent more treatment delays, Kosair Children's hospital has to ration the IV vials. During all of this, a 12-year-old boy is just trying to live a normal life.
"I honestly don't mind going in for treatments, I accept that I have to do it. But when a drug is on short supply, I just don't know what I'm supposed to do," Owen said, with tears in his eyes.
Right now in the U.S., there are almost 200 drug shortages, including prescription medications, sedatives, and antibiotics, caused by a drop in raw materials and manufacturing problems.