If you were in the manager responsible for distributing cancer drugs for childhool leukemia, what criteria would you use to determine which children would not receive the drug due to the shortage?

Federal officials and lawmakers, along with the drug industry and doctors’ groups, are rushing to find remedies for critical shortages of drugs to treat a number of life-threatening illnesses, including bacterial infection and several forms of cancer.

The proposed solutions, which include a national stockpile of cancer medicines and a nonprofit company that will import drugs and eventually make them, are still in the early or planning stages. But the sense of alarm is widespread.

“These shortages are just killing us,” said Dr. Michael Link, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the nation’s largest alliance of cancer doctors. “These drugs save lives, and it’s unconscionable that medicines that cost a couple of bucks a vial are unavailable.”

So far this year, at least 180 drugs that are crucial for treating childhood leukemia, breast and colon cancer, infections and other diseases have been declared in short supply — a record number.

Prices for some have risen as much as twentyfold, and clinical trials for some experimental cures have been delayed because the studies must also offer older medicines that cannot be reliably provided.

On Wednesday, Dianne Nomikos, 65, went to M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for a 9 a.m. appointment to receive Doxil, a vital medicine for her ovarian cancer. She was told to go home and wait until new supplies arrived.

“My life is in jeopardy,” she said through tears in a telephone interview. “Without the drug, who knows what’s going to happen to me?”

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