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We’re tired of being robbed by Big Pharma

Editorial Board • Dec 10, 2015 at 12:54 PM

We wrote in this space last year that Big Pharma was picking the pockets of Americans, that some medications were priced well beyond reason because absent competition and regulation, drug makers can charge whatever they please.

Drug companies say they need to charge high costs to pay for research and development. But we take that with as much face value as Big Oil jacking up gasoline prices the second the cost of a barrel of crude increases or a hurricane blows away a refinery, on gas already in the station’s tanks.

We know we’re being taken to the cleaners. And government knows we’re being taken to the cleaners. But nothing is done about it.

When last we broached this subject we mentioned that Americans pay more for drugs than citizens of any other country — about 40 percent more than Canada, the next highest spender, and more than twice as much as France and Germany. The U.S. and Chile are the only nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that don’t control drug prices.

And we cited some examples: Sofosbuvir, a drug effective against hepatitis C, a chronic, potentially fatal liver disease. The manufacturer priced it at $1,000 per pill such that a single course of treatment cost $84,000 — well in excess of $100,000 when the drug is combined with other medications, as often is the case.

And then there’s Lalydeco, the first drug to treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis. The maker priced the drug at $294,000 per year. The FDA also approved Zaltrap for colorectal cancer, a drug priced at $11,000 a month. When doctors at Sloan-Kettering in New York decided it wasn’t worth prescribing at that cost, the price dropped by half.

The latest example: a start-up drug company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, purchased Daraprim, a drug that’s been around for more than half a century but nonetheless was highly priced at $13.50 a pill. It is the standard of care for treading the parasitic infection toxoplasmosis.

Turing Pharmaceuticals had no R&D costs associated with the drug, which has been on the market for 62 years. But overnight, it raised the cost of the drug from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill, a 5,000 percent increase. It’s another demonstration that consumers are being gouged, even to the point of paying outrageous, ripoff prices.

It’s gotten so bad out there that more than 20 percent of Americans simply are not filling prescriptions, or are skipping doses because of cost. Other drugmakers have also recently purchased the rights to old, cheap medicines that are the only treatment for serious diseases and then hiked prices.

It is well past time the federal government regulated the price of drugs on a formula that rewards drug companies for research and development and guarantees profit, but protects consumers from being held hostage to potentially lifesaving treatments.

As to Daraprim, Express Scripts Holding Co., the nation’s biggest pharmacy benefits manager, has come to the rescue, offering an alternative for $1 a pill.

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