Although coming under heavy fire, several pharmaceutical companies continue to boost the price of many medications, creating financial burdens and health crises for patients who cannot afford them, according to the article, “Essential medicines in the United States — Why access is diminishing” by Jonathan D. Alpern, MD, John Song, MD, MPH, and William M. Stauffer, MD, MSPH.
The article, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in May 2016, names Turing Pharmaceuticals, Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Amedra Pharmaceuticals as companies that have marked up drugs as much as 5,400% to increase profit margins.
The article opens with: “On Aug. 10, 2015, Turing Pharmaceuticals bought the marketing rights to pyrimethamine (Daraprim), a decades-old first-line treatment for toxoplasmosis. The price of pyrimethamine immediately increased by 5,433%. Heavy scrutiny followed, and although Turing agreed to reduce the price, the drug remains prohibitively expensive for many patients.”
Medication such as dactinomycin, albendazole and cycloserine are among the essential drugs with enormous price increases. While several factors contribute to rising costs, many companies remain vague about their reasons, according to the article.
“What makes this business model particularly disturbing is that vulnerable patients — such as immigrants, refugees and people of low socio-economic status — are often disproportionately affected, since many of the medications are for tropical or opportunistic infections,” the authors wrote. “These patients often have limited or no access to insurance, or have access only through public programs, so already stark health disparities are compounded.”
Many of the pricy medications are for life-threatening illnesses. “Toxoplasmosis is considered one of the Neglected Parasitic Infections, a group of five parasitic diseases that have been targeted by CDC for public health action,” the CDC website stated. Toxoplasmosis is considered to be a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the United States. “More than 60 million men, women and children in the U.S. carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness,” the website stated. “However, women newly infected with Toxoplasma during pregnancy and anyone with a compromised immune system should be aware that toxoplasmosis can have severe consequences.”
Joseph Walker, author of the Dec. 31, 2015 Wall Street Journal article, “Patients struggle with high drug prices” wrote, “A quarter of U.S. prescription-drug users said it was difficult to afford them, in an August survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. In another survey, published in the journal Lancet Haematology in September, 10% of insured U.S. patients with the blood cancer multiple myeloma said they had stopped taking a cancer drug because of its cost.”
The USA Today article, “High drug prices mean you can’t afford your medications? There’s help” by Jayne O’Donnell and Laura Ungar, published Feb. 10, 2016, recommends patients seek discounted programs such as Needy Meds, www.needymeds.org. They quoted Rich Sagall, retired physician and founder of NeedyMeds, who said, “These programs give away billions of drugs each year and help millions of people.”
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