Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding legislation to help the FDA prevent shortages of life-saving medicines. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Twelve million people in the United States today have faced a cancer diagnosis.
Many have fought back against this terrible disease and won. Others are still fighting today.
And each one of them knows just how difficult a cancer diagnosis can be.
But imagine coming to terms with your diagnosis only to find out the life-saving drug you need to survive is in short supply – or simply not available.
That’s the situation faced by many Americans battling cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.
Through 20 weeks of chemotherapy, my wife and I lived with the fear that the medicine she needed every Monday morning wouldn’t be available when we got to the doctor’s office.
We were fortunate – the drug was always accessible. But many Americans haven’t been so lucky.
One Nevadan fighting bladder cancer was near the end of treatment when the medicine he was taking suddenly ran short.
Only time will tell whether the treatment he received was enough to save his life.
Another Nevada woman with bowel cancer was forced to choose a less effective chemotherapy treatment because the best drug on the market – one that cures bowel cancer in 75 percent of cases – wasn’t available.
Only time will tell whether the second-choice medicine was effective enough.
Yet another Nevada man was relying on two cancer drugs to keep him alive longer and give him greater quality of life – but one drug was in short supply. Since the drugs only work when taken together, doctors have only been able to treat him intermittently.
Only time will tell how many days or weeks he lost because he couldn’t get the drug he needed.
Every day, these stories play out in hospitals across the country.
Every day, Americans experience shortages of life-saving, FDA-approved drugs and treatments.
These shortages literally put American lives at risk.
And as the number of shortages increases each year, more patients are forced to wait for treatment and worry.
In the last six years, drug shortages have quadrupled.
Last year, the FDA reported shortages of 231 drugs – including many chemotherapy medicines.
Public pressure has prompted some drug makers to voluntarily notify the FDA of impending shortages.
But Congress must step in to improve communication between drug makers, the FDA and doctors – doctors who have to break the terrible news that life-saving medicines aren’t available.
Voluntary cooperation between drug makers and the FDA prevented almost 200 drug shortages last year.
But establishing effective lines of communication could further reduce the number of shortages, and save patients’ lives.
So I am pleased the spirit of bipartisanship – begun by my colleagues, Senator Harkin and Senator Enzi – continued yesterday.
I look forward to an orderly amendment process. And I am optimistic that the Senate will move this legislation without unnecessary delays.
Each year, more than 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with some form of cancer.
It is up to us to ensure not one of them waits and wonders if the medicine he needs to stay alive will be there when he needs it.