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Monday October 31, 2011 | 09:43 AM

When President Obama signs an executive order today attempting to address shortages of critical prescription drugs for diseases such as cancer, he effectively will be putting into effect a good chunk of a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Collins is the lead GOP sponsor of a bill authored by Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and unveiled in early September. Collins got a call Sunday from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius letting the Maine Republican know that Obama essentially was putting her bill into effect via executive order, a Collins spokesman said.

The bill requires drug makers to notify the federal Food and Drug Administration if shortages arise of critical drugs, particularly those often used by hospitals. The bill also requires the FDA to keep the public updated about shortages and what the agency plans to do to make sure enough drugs are available.

“According to the FDA, the number of drug shortages has nearly tripled over the last six years, jumping from 61 drug products in 2005 to 178 in 2010,” Collins said in a statement when the bill was introduced.  “Many of the drugs in shortage are critical drugs used for anesthesia and chemotherapy.  Doctors in Maine have told me that these shortages are causing serious problems around the country including forcing some hospitals to ration drugs or postpone elective surgeries. Requiring manufacturers to alert the FDA sooner when a drug will not be available will help both doctors and patients.”

Today’s executive order is the latest such step by Obama in response to what the president says is congressional inaction on important issues such as his proposed $447 billion jobs bill.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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