When Profit Means More…
Quite recently I dealt with the frightening realities of Adjuvant Therapy [cancer treatment], which has catapulted me into the dark abyss of fear and anxiety.
Two weeks ago I attempted to refill my prescription of Tamoxifen only to be informed by my pharmacist that it wasn’t available. It was a voice message I received after-hours and it left me in a panic. I spent my Saturday morning frantically calling pharmacies trying to figure out what I could do, and how I could get my prescription filled. With the help of a pharmacist at a Rexall Pharmacy I was able to track down a supply of Tamoxifen at a Shoppers Drug Mart. It took 50 excruciating hours to resolve the issue. I had to wait for my pharmacy to reopen on the Monday so that I could ask them to send my prescription requisition to the pharmacy that had the supply of Tamoxifen. These competing pharmacies worked together to ensure my needs as a patient were met. They were quick to act and quick to help me. In 52 hours I was picking up my prescription of Tamoxifen so I could continue my course of Adjuvant Therapy with no interruption. I was lucky – this time.
Why did this happen? Reeling from my panic and anxiety I needed some answers. I reached out to my support group at ReThink Breast Cancer and was met with a startling revelation that breast cancer patients across Canada are experiencing a similar situation as myself – pharmacies are simply unable to refill their prescription of Tamoxifen. After further digging and investigating I have since learned that – according to Drug Shortages Canada – Teva-Tamoxifen (manufactured by Teva Canada Ltd.) is allocating to cover approximately 30% of market demand. Their reasoning for this shortage is a disruption of the manufacture of the drug and the estimated end date for this shortage is January 31, 2020 (see the Drug Shortage Report here).
Adjuvant [hormonal] Therapy is incredibly important – we often hear about surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy as treatment methods for breast cancer, but the less talked-about treatment that holds equal weight is Adjuvant Therapy. It is taken post-surgery/radiation/chemotherapy to further inhibit the reoccurrence of breast cancer. I was prescribed a 5-year treatment plan of Tamoxifen because my breast cancer was estrogen-positive. Tamoxifen works on the whole body (known as systemic treatment) and blocks the effects of estrogen on these [ER+] receptors. This helps to stop estrogen from encouraging any breast cancer cells to grow. For this treatment to work effectively one must complete the treatment plan as laid out by one’s Oncology Team.
So what does one do when there is a Tamoxifen shortage? As mentioned, the company that manufactured mine is meeting 30% of the demand, which translates to 70% of the women who rely on this treatment cannot refill their prescriptions, and are struggling to find a way to continue with their treatment plan without interruption. And there are no clear answers given as to why there is a shortage – why Teva-Canada Ltd. cannot meet the demands. It is very frightening, disheartening, and frustrating.
Angry, anxious, and wanting answers I have done more reading and found two enlightening yet very frightening articles, one published by CancerWorld.net Shortages of Generic Cancer Medicines are Harming Patients so Why Can’t We Fix It and one published by CBC.CA Cancer Drug Shortages. Upon reading these articles it becomes very apparent that the system – world-wide – is broken. Pharmaceutical Drug Companies are putting their profit line ahead of the lives of people, and governments are not doing enough to protect the people to ensure their medical needs are met. Many pharmaceuticals will either cease production of a drug, or limit production once the patent runs out. They do this because they are not making a significant profit from the drug. The profit means more than the person.
“When cancer drug shortages occur they have real impacts on patients.” – Rachel Brazil
I don’t know what can be done to fix this broken system. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. All I know is that I am a breast cancer survivor who relies on Tamoxifen. I am four years into my treatment with one more year to go. When my prescription runs out in January 2020 will I be able to refill it? I don’t know. This possible reality scares me. It is a burden I should not have to bear, yet here I am – anxious, fearful, and feeling helpless over the realization that I may not be able to continue my treatment without interruption, or that I may be forced to end my treatment early. How will that impact me?
And I am not the only cancer survivor struggling with this reality, fear, and anxiety. Something should be done. Something needs to be done. But where does one begin? How do you convince a for-profit company that you simply cannot place monetary value on a person’s life.
The person should mean more than the profit.
When Profit Means More... Published by Crystal Joy Hall