Methotrexate, a drug used to treat a blood cancer that strikes children between the ages of 2 and 5, have nearly run out, The New York Times reports. The disease, called acute lymphoblastic leukemia, is a cancer of white blood cells that begin in the bone marrow and spread to other areas of the body, most commonly the spine and brain. Methrotrexate is injected in large quantities directly in the spinal fluid, blocking the cancer's spread. (The drug is also used in the treatment of non-life-threatening illnesses like arthritis and psoriasis.) The largest supplier of the drug, Ben Venue Laboratories in Bedford, Ohio, suspended operations out of quality concerns. Four other manufacturers in the U.S. are trying to ramp up production of the drug, but an F.D.A. spokesperson says it's not coming nearly fast enough:
“This is dire,” said Valerie Jensen, associate director of the FDA’s drug shortages program. “Supplies are just not meeting demand.”
Methrotexate isn't the only drug shortage currently faced by the health care industry, though its sudden scarcity and use in saving children's lives makes it the most dramatic. Antibiotics, chemo drugs, anesthetics and painkillers have also been reported as being unable to meet demand, while at least two deaths are being attributed to use of a morphine substitute used when that drug was unavailable, according to a recent report from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. The report says that since 2006, shortages of generic injectable drugs have sharply increased, from 70 five years ago to over 230 as of November 2011.