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The Takeaway: Obama Orders FDA to Deal With Drug Shortages; World's Population Heavily Gray

Action On Drug Shortages? Imagine going to a hospital and being told they can't treat you because the medication you need is simply out. This isn't totally uncommon. More than 178 prescription drugs shortages were reported in America last year, and that number has only risen in 2011. Now  President Barack Obama is ordering the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to take more action. The President  will sign an executive order today outlining steps the FDA must take.

According to the New York Times, Obama's order instructs the FDA to do three things:

  • Broaden reporting of potential shortages of certain prescription drugs;
  • Speed reviews of applications to begin or alter production of these drugs;
  • And provide more information to the Justice Department about possible instances of collusion or price gouging.

The President will also announce his support for House and Senate legislation that would require drug companies to notify the FDA six months in advance of potential shortages (notification is currently voluntary).

Prescription drug shortages put patients at risk, requiring hospitals to improvise alternative treatment solutions or pay for highly marked-up meds from 'gray market' suppliers. And the ever-increasing shortages particularly affect older Americans, who undergo more surgeries and cancer treatments, doctors say.

But the FDA says most drug shortages stem from unexpected errors during the manufacturing process, when medications are tainted and/or production gets halted. Will faster FDA reporting and reviewing have much of an impact? For now, it's the best they can do, administration officials say.
"The president's action is a recognition of the fact that this is a serious problem, and we can and should do more to help solve it," an administration official who asked to remain anonymous told the New York Times.

The order-the first since 1985 by a president to affect the functions of the FDA-is the latest in the Obama administration's new 'We Can't Wait' campaign to move on things that don't require congressional approval

It's An Old Old Old Old World: According to the United Nations, the world's population is set to hit 7 billion today. But the world's population is not only growing-it's growing older, too. With life spans longer than ever before-and people having less children than ever before, as well-our world's demographics have gone topsy turvy.

The result is a re-contoured age graph: The pyramid, once with a tiny number of old folks at the peak and a broad foundation of children, is inverting. In wealthy countries, the graph already has a pronounced middle-age spread.

For many countries-including the United States, Japan, China, Germany and Spain-this demographic upheaval is causing economic and social problems, with not enough younger workers to support the growing number of retirees (in America, the ratio of working-age people to retirement-age people will go from about 5-to-1 to 3-to-1 in the next two decades,  according to the Census Bureau). People across cultures may have to extend their working lives beyond traditional retirement age, and countries may start competing for immigrants.

Monday Quick Hits: 

  • Fat cells in the abdomen can fuel the spread of ovarian cancer, according to a new study. This pad of fat cells, called the omentum, "acts as a launching pad and energy source for the likely lethal spread of ovarian cancer," said study author Ernst Lengyel, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago.

  • "They were once hailed as havens where the so-called Stonewall generation-the first "out" group of senior citizens-could age without being treated with hostility or forced back into the closet," the New York Times reports. Lately, however, gay retirement communities have been struggling.

  • And what does happy-at-50 look like? Like Mary Claire Orenic, apparently. The boomer wife, mother and health care director talks about her path to well-being (and how other boomer women can get there, too).

(Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Reuters) 
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