Why Obama's Prescription Drug Plan Couldn't Wait
1 year ago
The drug shortage impacted African Americans of all incomes directly
The situation can only be resolved by allowing new suppliers in the market while the manufacturing industry increases its production capacity, which could take years.
For African Americans and poor people with cancer and other diseases, they literally can’t afford to wait. Studies have shown that black patients generally disavow drug treatment, often opting for the much more expensive, but much more immediately accessible option of the emergency room.
This is not a problem that's unique to just poor African Americans, or the uninsured in places like California where according to a UCLA study, black patients at all income levels opt for the ER over physician visits. The ER-treatment, of course, is unsustainable, though, especially when used for problems that are not actually emergencies. But when there are droughts like this, people suffering from managed illnesses may end up in the emergency room anyway if they can’t get their medicine. Lead scientist Dylan Roby figured there may be something about HMOs and the physicians they work with that creates obstacles to timely primary care for black patients.
Which is why Obama’s executive order – though just a small step in the scale of things – is a lifesaver. If black patients are being discouraged from regular care, it's only more discouraging for them to go through the motions only to find there are no medications available for them. And if emergency rooms aren't providing the best treatment for serious illnesses because of the shortages then seeking treatment becomes even more deterring.
“President Obama’s executive order that makes those drugs more available is a boon, and should definitely be looked upon as a positive thing,” says Dr. Richard Allen Williams, president of the Minority Health Institute. “Especially for minorities because the lack of availability of medicine creates healthcare disparities, which causes more minorities to suffer.”
There is some caution with Obama’s order, though, says Williams, because it allows the FDA to use “regulatory discretion” to relax drug product reviews that normally are done carefully to avoid harmful drugs from reaching the public. As it is, some of the drugs that are currently suffering shortages are because things like glass shards, metal fillings or contamination have been found in them.
At this point, it’s “weighing risks against benefits,” says Williams, who says there’s “absolutely not” an instance in FDA’s history where using this kind of discretion for expedition led to a bad drug hitting the market.
“The benefits of having drugs that might be life-saving available for people in need is greater than the risks of some downside events that could occur. We just have to watch to see what happens, but in the meantime we have to make sure enough of the essential drugs are available to the public.”