Drug Hub: Companies exploiting drug shortage earn huge profits - News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

Drug Hub: Companies exploiting drug shortages to earn huge profits

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Imagine you have a life-threatening disease and there is a drug to treat it. Now imagine there is a shortage of that drug and the shortage is being made worse by someone intentionally restricting the supply to increase profits.

This is happening in Northwest Ohio.

Boots Watts, of Findlay, Ohio, is fighting for her life. Watts is in her third round of chemotherapy after doctors first discovered and removed a large cancerous tumor from her ovaries several years ago.

She had to switch her medicine in the middle of her latest round of chemotherapy because the supply ran out.

"I just don't understand how you could start something … how could you run out?" said Boots Watts, a patient undergoing chemotherapy.

Over 200 different medicines are listed as "in short supply," everything from cancer-fighting drugs to anesthetics. Some wholesale companies are using this shortage as an opportunity to start a so-called medical gray market, where these drugs are hoarded and then offered to hospitals at sky-high prices.

WTOL spoke to an organization that just released a study finding companies on average sell these drugs at a markup of 650 percent. CBS News spoke with one former employee of a gray market company who said his company makes up to 600 percent profit on some of the drugs it sells.

The U.S. Government found one company selling a drug that usually costs $12 a dose for $1,000 a dose.

President Obama just announced an executive order to try to alleviate the drug shortage calling it a "dire situation," and the government is investigating companies for profiting off of the shortage.

Patients like Watts are innocent victims as certain companies take advantage of the record prescription drug shortage.

"It's a life, and they're more concerned about money than a life," said Watts. "It's all greed. It's a money maker. It ain't somebody that cares about somebody. They're just making money. It's all money."

WTOL can confirm some of these third party wholesalers do try to make a profit and sell drugs to some hospitals in our area.

The hospitals say they sign contracts with and deal only with legitimate wholesalers, but the end result is sometimes hospitals find themselves without the drugs they need.

According to Debora Carter, who runs the pharmacy at ProMedica's Flower Hospital in Toledo, every hospital in the country is dealing with the problem and it is not getting better.

"Sometimes you really don't know there's a shortage until you order the drug and it's not available," said Carter. "Sometimes you don't even know immediately why you can't obtain a drug."

Nurses and doctors must adjust on the fly, figuring out new medicines and courses of treatment. And that's not easy for some of the cancer drugs.

"A lot of times those are the kinds of medications where you're limited on alternative therapies," said Carter

Watts is counting down the days until her next checkup, hopeful her new medicine is doing its job.   

"Probably life or death. If I didn't do chemo I'd probably die," said Watts.

And she, like so many people in her situation, hope the greed of some companies don't hurt her chances.

Copyright 2011 WTOL. All Rights Reserved.

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