There is a growing “grey market” for critical drugs in short supply. According to the FDA the shortage of the supply of drugs the absence of which creates the potential for patient harm has tripled in the past five years. Many of these drugs are essential for the treatment of various types of cancers. There has arisen a group of companies that appear on the surface to profiteering from the shortage by cornering a market on the scarce drugs and demanding and receiving a ransom in payment. Some payments have been as much as 80 times the base price. According to a survey undertaken by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, over half of the hospitals and medical centers in the country have experienced drug shortages that have affected patient care.
Elijah Cummings, the Senior Democratic Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has commenced an investigation into the problem and had issued letters requesting information from the largest of the re-sellers. The re-sellers, for their part, indicate that the high prices are due to their costs in purchasing the drugs in the open market after there have been progressive bumps in the costs through various wholesalers facing supply and demand issues in the market place and their marketing expenses. The interesting question is the reason for the growing shortages? Why are these drugs not available? This might smack of Enron, where suppliers helped organize artificial shortages of electricity in California. Is it possible that some of these companies are cornering the market for specific, vital drugs creating an artificial depression in supply in order to increase the price? Stranger things have happened.