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Recent Newspaper & Online Columns by Kate Scannell MD

The top 10 medical stories of 2011

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First published in print: 12/25/2011

The top 10 medical stories chosen for 2011 are distinguished for their broad reach into people's lives. I look to the new year with hope that 2012's list contains much good health news for us.

Drug shortage: Our nationwide prescription drug shortage worsened this year, compromising some patients' health while also revealing systemic problems with pharmaceutical production and regulation. At least 250 drug shortages were reported, with hospitals facing worrisome scarcity of lifesaving medications including chemotherapies, heart drugs and antibiotics. An executive order signed in October by President Obama broadened the Food and Drug Administration's authority to expand its reporting of potential drug shortages, expedite regulatory reviews and monitor for opportunistic price-gouging on sales of scarce drugs. Still, the FDA cannot require pharmaceutical companies to resume or increase drug supplies -- and pharmaceutical companies are not legally obligated to do so.

Celebs help: Celebrities can influence societal views about health and disease. They can share the spotlight with public health issues to make them more visible to millions of people. The death of 27-year-old singer Amy Winehouse in July sadly illuminated the health hazards of excessive drinking. In November, the involuntary manslaughter conviction of Michael Jackson's physician cast a dark light on prescription drug abuse. When former first lady Betty Ford died in July, we were reminded about the power of one person's voice to speak truth to silence in changing how people viewed illnesses such as cancers and addictions.  Read More 

The high cost of our prescription drug shortage

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First published in print: 12/11/2011

We should not need to make certain laws. Without requiring state or federal legislation, we should automatically know that it's wrong to, say, kick a puppy. To bully gay students in public schools. To maliciously impersonate someone through social media with the aim of harmingthem. To not inform your customers when their personal information has been stolen from your company's computer databases.

Yet, admittedly, laws against these behaviors arose precisely because puppies were being abused, gay students were being harassed, people were ruthlessly slandered on the Internet, and unwitting consumers were falling prey to identity theft. And while such laws may fail to convince a puppy-kicker or cyberbully of their moral merit, still, they serve to discourage some bad behavior with threats of penalties and public sanction.

This brings us to current news about our nation's critical prescription drug shortage and a related bill being introduced next week in Congress. The new bill aims to penalize "unscrupulous drug distributors" w ho price-gouge hospitals for lifesaving medications in current short supply. If the bill is enacted, it would become a federal crime for distributors to demand hugely marked-up prices for these scarce drugs -- as many of them are now doing.  Read More