FDA monitors shortage of potentially life-saving drugs as patients fight to get them

This week, local hospital systems secured additional chemotherapy drugs for patients in need
Posted at 12:05 PM, Jun 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-23 13:05:05-04

MILWAUKEE — For months now, the Federal Drug Administration has warned about a shortage of dozens of drugs. On that list, are many drugs used to treat cancer.

Hospitals nationwide have been forced to ration these drugs, and Milwaukee is no exception.

Jeff and Connie Bolle have been married for more than two decades. In December, the Milwaukee Public School counselor and football coach got news he never expected.

"They did an MRI and ended up finding the size of a grapefruit tumor," Connie Bolle said.

Jeff was diagnosed with stage four bile duct cancer. In January, he had surgery to remove part of the tumor, and started chemotherapy a month later.

"It was tough. It was just such a shock because it seemed to happen so quickly," Jeff Bolle explained.

Jeff's treatment included a drug called Cisplatin. It's one of many cancer drug supply's the FDA is monitoring.

"The shortage this time is much more severe. A lot of facilities couldn't get any drug at all, and some patients were having to be turned away at some facilities," Dr. Corey Shamah told the I-Team.

Shamah's the director of oncology for the Aurora Healthcare System. He said, at Aurora, only a select group of patients were impacted.

"Patients with certain diseases at certain severity of their diseases," Shamah explained.

Unfortunately, Jeff was one of those patients.

"Living in the United States, you don't think that would happen," Jeff said.

Experts said for drugs like Cisplatin and Carboplatin, both used to treat cancer, profitability for manufacturers is low. They said that's a contributing factor for the shortage.

"It's very difficult, and it's not fair to patients because of decisions that are made by some of these pharmaceutical companies. We were stuck," Shamah said.

Luckily, this past week, Aurora was able to secure a large supply of Cisplatin. However, Shamah said the shortage crisis overall, isn't over.

"I think as a society, whether it's government and industry, needs to take a little more control of this and understand that this isn't just about profits. It's not jut about the business of medicine. It's about people," Shamah added.

Now, the Bolle's are taking the matters of change into their own hands. Working to make sure this shortage can be improved and helping other patients along the way too.

"We really are trying to reach out to those politicians, asking what we can do. We're here to be the voice, and it's not just Cisplatin, it's other chemotherapy drugs, and other drugs. We just can't let manufacturers really rule people's lives," Connie explained.

The I-Team did reach out to both Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin and Children's Wisconsin. Spokespeople for both systems said their supply is adequate for now, but that they're constantly monitoring things.