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Health Department Getting Much-Needed AIDS Drugs

June 20, 2005 — After close to three weeks of limited supply, medicines used by the Department of Health to treat AIDS and HIV patients are starting to trickle back into stock.
This is the third time in four years that medications supplied by the department's AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) have run dry.
Taetia Phillips-Dorsett, ADAP's territorial director, said she consulted with the program's medical director and was assured that long-term patients who have had consistent care now have immune systems healthy enough to withstand a lapse in their regimens.
"According to [medical director] Dr. Gayann Hall … it's not going to significantly impact those patients that are enrolled with us because they have a history of being on the [program], [and] their immune systems are mostly healthy," Phillips-Dorsett said Thursday.
She added, "There are some patients, however, who have been given the immediate supply as it arrives on island."
The drug that has returned to the Health Department stock is Combivir, an HIV-virus-fighting drug that is usually given in combination with two other drugs, Zidovudine and Lamivudine.
The director said four other drugs are currently on order, but she declined to name them. Information on Combivir, available on the Internet, says patients must maintain adequate levels of that drug in their systems in order to fight the disease. If a dose is missed, the online literature directs patients to take another dose as soon as they remember.
Phillips-Dorsett said those patients who are newly enrolled in the ADAP program are the ones that are being given immediate access to the drug.
Patients who qualify for federal funds under the Ryan White Title II program are eligible for help under ADAP.
The current medication shortage marks the third time since 2001 that ADAP patients have gone without their life-sustaining treatments. One of the most commonly expressed concerns about the situation is that AIDS drugs are administered in combination, often called "cocktails."
Different combinations work for different people in different stages of the disease, but in order to work, the cocktail must be given consistently. If that doesn't happen, patients' immune systems can put up resistance to the drugs, and a cocktail that used to be effective may stop working, leaving the patient sicker than before.
Phillips-Dorsett offered no explanation as to why the drugs ran out close to three weeks ago. However, on June 10 the Source reported that the drugs did not arrive because a contract crucial to the release of the funds to purchase the drugs was caught up in the quagmire of V.I. bureaucracy. (See "AIDS, HIV Patients Still Without Medication".)
Phillips-Dorsett said that as ADAP program administrators gain more experience, it becomes easier to anticipate what to do if a shortage occurs.
She did not indicate how long it would take for the other four AIDS-fighting drugs, now on order, to arrive in the territory.
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