Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid added a personal note this morning in a speech calling for the Senate to begin work on a bill to help alleviate shortages of life-saving medications.
When Reid’s wife Landra was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, Reid said they were concerned about the availability of a particular drug used in her treatment.
"She had 20 weeks of chemotherapy," Reid said. "Every week we were worried that drug wouldn’t be there on that Monday morning at noon when she got the treatments. Fortunately for us they were."
Reid did not specify the medication in his speech, and aides were checking on it afterwards. But Reid said many others are not as fortunate.
"In 2005 the FDA reported shortages of 55 medications. Last year the number jumped to 231," he said, including one to treat childhood leukemia.
"As the number of drug shortages increases each year, more parents wait and worry, more husbands and daughters and sons wait and worry," Reid said,
The causes of drug shortages vary from manufacturing problems, consolidations within the drug industry, the decreased warehousing of surpluses, and the absence of a profit motive in making some of the medications.
The bill before the Senate requires drug manufacturers to report potential drug shortages to the Food and Drug Administration at least six months in advance. The agency then could respond by authorizing imports or asking other companies to step up production.
Drug companies have been voluntarily stepping up notifications to the government, a practice that has resulted in some successes, according to the FDA.
The drug shortage provision is one part of the bill that also renews the authority of the FDA to collect user fees from companies to review their new medications and medical devices.
Reid’s office disclosed last September that the senator’s wife had been diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer and was undergoing treatment.
The Reids, who have been married more than 50 years, remained in Washington over the winter while Landra continued treatments.
In April, Reid said his wife had improved to where he felt comfortable traveling back to Nevada. He told reporters there she was "doing very well," and had six weeks of radiation treatment remaining.