WASHINGTON

FDA ordered to take steps to deal with drug shortages

President Obama ordered the Food and Drug Administration on Monday to take new steps to send out early warnings about looming drug shortages and try to avert them.

Doctors and hospitals are scrambling for medicines ranging from chemotherapies, to anesthetics used in surgery, to the electrolytes that are crucial to IV feeding in intensive care.

Fifteen deaths have been blamed on shortages.

The FDA reported 178 drug shortages last year and says it sees more this year.

The agency said Monday it had prevented 137 more drug shortages in the past two years, when companies told regulators they were having trouble. Options include getting other manufacturers to ramp up their own production and helping to find alternative suppliers of key ingredients.

Obama’s executive order instructs the FDA to take more such steps — to push more companies to come forward about potential shortages, to speed applications to change production of those drugs, and to alert the Justice Department about possible collusion or price-gouging.

The administration also supports legislation pending in Congress that would go a step further and require more industry reporting of shortages.

PHOENIX

Baseline killer case suspect found guilty in death of nine

An Arizona jury Monday found a former construction worker guilty of killing nine people in the so-called Baseline Killer case that terrorized the Phoenix area during the summer of 2006.

Mark Goudeau was accused of attacking his victims as they went about daily activities, such as leaving work or washing their car. The victims — eight of them women — ranged from 19 to 39 years old

Prosecutors had called Goudeau, 47, a “ravenous wolf” driven by a hunger to rape women and kill those who didn’t cooperate with his demands. Defense attorneys insisted that there are likelier suspects than Goudeau and questioned DNA tests linking Goudeau to the crimes.

The verdicts in the four-month trial mean Goudeau is now eligible for the death penalty. The sentencing phase begins Wednesday.

HARTFORD, Conn.

Storm-diverted planes sit on runway seven hours

A rare October snowstorm and equipment problems at Newark’s Liberty International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport forced 23 planes to divert to the much smaller Bradley International Airport in Hartford on Saturday.

Passengers on at least three JetBlue planes and one American Airlines flight from Paris reported being confined for seven hours or more. Food and water ran out, toilets backed up and tempers snapped.

The captain of JetBlue Flight 504, diverted en route to Newark from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., begged for help to get his plane to a gate.

“We can’t seem to get any help from our own company. … Is there any way you can get a tug and a tow bar out here to us and get us towed somewhere to a gate or something?” the captain can be heard pleading with authorities over his radio on audio provided by LiveATC.net.

The Transportation Department said in a statement that it is investigating whether JetBlue’s handling of Flight 504 violated the department’s three-hour limit on how long airlines can hold passengers in planes on tarmac or face fines.

The department is also looking into several other possible extended tarmac delays of more than three hours, the statement said.

JetBlue spokeswoman Alison Croyle declined to comment on the pilot’s remarks or whether the airline had arrangements in place in case of a diversion to Bradley.

COLUMBIA, S.C.

Justice Dept. challenges state’s immigration law

The U.S. Department of Justice has challenged South Carolina’s new immigration law in federal court, saying it undermines federal authority.

The Justice Department has asked for an injunction that would prevent the state’s law from taking effect in January. The lawsuit argues that the U.S. government is the only entity that can implement immigration policy and the state’s immigration law could result in the harassment and detention of foreign visitors, legal immigrants and U.S. citizens.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has vowed to defend the state’s immigration law to the Supreme Court if necessary. On Monday, his office said Wilson couldn’t comment on the lawsuit because it had not received it.

South Carolina’s new law, which was signed by Gov. Nikki Haley in June, requires all police officers to verify the immigration status of anyone they detain, whether it is for a speeding ticket or a murder charge.

The law also allows state residents to file suit against public officials whom they believe are not enforcing the law. And it creates a felony charge for people who are in the country illegally.