tablets and money, generic drug costs, generic drugs

Q. Has anyone done some investigative journalism to expose why several generic medication prices have skyrocketed? My clobetasol ointment has gone up 300 percent over the last year.

My understanding is that there has been consolidation of companies that manufacture generics. The supply chain appears to be getting narrower. Higher prices are squeezing many insurance programs as well as individuals.

A. You have identified a growing concern related to the pharmaceutical industry. Generic drugs are supposed to be affordable, but over the last few years we have seen extraordinary price jumps for some very old medications.

Digoxin Prices Skyrocket

Digoxin is a heart drug that was first sold in 1939. Last year one person purchased a three-month supply for $12. Today the same generic digoxin is $99.99 at a major pharmacy chain.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. Other generic drugs that have skyrocketed include the antibiotic doxycycline and the injectable heart medicine nitroprusside.

An article in The New England Journal of Medicine (Nov. 13, 2014) documented a 2800 percent increase in the blood pressure drug captopril between 2012 and 2013.  It appears that consolidation of generic manufacturers is in large part responsible for decreased competition and higher prices.

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  1. John A,

    Last year, Actavis Pharm. bought Forest Pharm., the company which made Armour Thyroid medicine. This medicine has been available for many, many years as a generic drug. For those not familiar with its origin, it is made of powdered pigs thyroid glands, a throw-a-way byproduct of slaughter.

    The importance of this natural product is that many patients cannot use the synthetic thyroid product on the market which doesn’t properly convert T3/ T4 in their system. The natural animal product does convert as needed.

    For 20 years, I have been taking this natural product which started at $5 for 90 days, probably representing one of the cheapest medicine on the market in the U.S. The price then increased VERY slowly to about $20 for 90 days a year ago. Since Actavis purchased the company, the price is now $100 for 90 days, it is now a ‘BRAND’ name product on the Ins. Co’s formularies, but it is has been dropped from my Medicare Advant. formulary as of Jan 1, 2015. (they have to make up their obscenely high profits that the Medicare Board reduced by upping all presp. cost levels, instigating new monthly premiums, & dropping less profitable medicine contracts.)

    The same thing described above has also happened with the Ambien generic med. price.

  2. Arnold
    Oceanside, NY

    Here is where government is supposed to work. The drug companies are buying up the generic manufactures creating a type of monopoly. Prices go up in an extraordinary way because they can and that greed is making old drugs in some cases unaffordable. Enforcing the laws we have is a good start. Must we go through sickness and death before the “market place” corrects itself (if ever) or do we prevent the buying up of generic manufactures causing there to be less of them so we all can be gauged by greedy companies. There is such a thing as appropriate government action for our protection. There is a reason why monopolies are not allowed. They do not encourage innovation and new and better things by stifling competition.

  3. Lola
    Western Pennsylvania

    Power to the people! We can and must demand accountability from our elected representatives, both state and federal. If the rest of the world can keep drug prices so affordable that we buy them from another country, what is wrong with us. Keep a list of politicians who vote for Big Pharma and against Little Citizen. Then VOTE THE B_______ OUT. It can be done. We also need to get up a petition for an amendment to the constitution that repeals pensions and health care for life for federal and state politicians, let them contribute to an IRA or health savings account. And, while we are at it, before we end up like what happened in Greece, we need the make it law that all pensions paid for by the public thru taxes cannot be collected until the same retirement age of full social security for the rest of us, allowing them the same deal of collecting a lesser amount early. I know this will probably not be popular for some reading this, but, remember, it has always been true that something is often liked or disliked based on whose ox is getting gored! We are in this together, rich, middle class, and poor. What we think is guaranteed is not guaranteed if there is no money to pay for it. People are not going to accept poverty to pay exorbitant taxes to support those who retire on full pension at 48 years, nor should they. We are in control of our own destiny, but, it will take work and caring for our fellow man/woman to make us get off our duff and do something.

  4. Lucy
    Everett PA

    Is clobetasol ointment a prescription medicine. If the price looks good, maybe you should look into it and see if it might be a substitute for your prescription which costs too much.

  5. Mary
    Roswell GA

    My husband is retired military & we appreciate our prescription benefit. However, my Cardizem will not be filled any more by Express Scripts. I checked on line & the price for 30 days is around $1,700.00. How outrageous!

    • John A,

      Mary, there is a generic for Cardizem. You might want to research it online. It’s called something like Generic Diltiazem. I saw one price which was quite reasonable.

      You might want to call your doctor & ask him what the generic is called. Personally, I would emailed your doctor. That might be a better way to get an answer from him.

      Call your pharmacy & ask them what the generic is & what the cost would be.

  6. Heather

    Here in Melbourne Australia most generic drugs are Aus $6.20 per RX. I always get the Brand name which is anything up to $5 more however they are better quality, all long lasting and better fillers. The Brand names are made all over the world, i.e Spain, Singapore, Scandinavia, USA UK etc. I believe most generics are made in India by one or two of the Big brand names.

  7. Danielle
    Seattle, WA

    I have been taking Celebrex for my arthritis for years (after trying more holistic approaches as mentioned on People’s Pharmacy) and was looking forward to the generic being offered. Well, it finally arrived, and one, it is not nearly as effective as the brand name, so I returned it, and two, the generic is only $10 less than the brand name (through Medicare). So forget that, I’m now back on brand name Celebrex until I can get two knees replaced.
    I wish there were some way we could get the pharmaceutical industry better regulated. Frankly, it scares me. Not just the cost, but whether I can trust the quality of the medications.

    • Ladyliza
      Los Angeles

      There are many supplements that will take the pain of arthritis away. Serrapeptase works very well and I noticed a difference in the first few days of taking it. The key is to take it on an empty stomach, and really empty like early in the am with no food for a couple of hours. Amazon has it. Even my doctor carries it but I took Dr’s Best 120,000 units. (1X day)

    • John A,

      Please be very careful using the Celebrex. My arthritis specialist put me on it & I trusted her judgment in doing so. I did think it was strange at every 3 mo. visit when she “grilled” me with 6 questions about any terrible symptoms I might have; blood in the stool, stomach pains, nausea, indigestion, regurgitation, estoghous pain. Then I always was given a blood test for any liver problems.

      I decided to do some research on this “new, very expensive medicine”. It turns out it was created to avoid all the possible problems that ordinary aspirin could cause. And all those problems were the very same problems that were being reported for the very expensive Celebrex.

      I took this medicine everyday for 3 years & then one day when I was in the yard picking up some light debris from a storm, I fell to the ground with one of the worse pains I had ever experienced in my estoghous. I went straight to my doctor. “Oh, she said, I guess the Celebrex damaged your estoghous. A lot of my patients are reporting that to me. Maybe you should just start taking coated aspirin for your arthritis.”

      I still have pain quite often since that time when doing light work such as mowing the lawn, or turning the garden. Amazingly, the coated aspirins do the job for pain & inflammation. I guess sometimes newer is not necessary better.

  8. Helen M
    Modesto, CA

    I thought we had trust busting (and preventing) laws in place so this kind of monopoly could not be created. I remember Nixon and price controls; perhaps we need that sort of action today re the pharmaceutical industry. Even tho many of our politicians have sold themselves to the drug companies; it is still our vote that gets them into office in the first place. And that leads me to campaign contributions; another place where our system has failed us. And whose idea was this donut hole in the first place? I remember Bush minor saying seniors would never fall into the donut hole. Well, guess what? Ever since that law went into enactment I have fallen into the donut hole and one year was so bad, I actually crawled out of it. With the ever increasing price of drugs, even generics, the donut hole looms larger and sooner each year.

  9. J

    The republicans refusal to address the health care problems of American and instead let the drug companies and the insurance companies make their own rules. The ACA tried to address the soaring price of drugs but the extreme right seems bound to make the sick pay through the nose for their drugs, always siding with the big corporations over people. Instead of repealing the ACA they could just fix it but noooo! they have to destroy anything that isn’t their idea. As long as the people do not protest with their votes it will continue to get worse.

    • C J
      St Louis,MO

      Hey, hey, J Boone, There’s plenty of blame to go around, Democrats included. The politicians in both parties are more interested in their own pocketbooks and getting re-elected than putting the people’s problems first. The ACA has caused more problems than not. And when it comes to the drug companies, it comes down to pure greed !

    • L Horne
      Sealy, TX

      Agree with J Boone. I have friends in Canada ,One in Nova Scotia the other in Calgary, and they are very satisfied with their health insurance. We used to live on the border with Mexico and I could go across and get my prescription for less than half the cost, made by the same company. If the drug companies spent 1/2 what they do on advertising they might give us a break on the price. Instead we have endless Viagra and Cialis commercials.

    • Craig

      Boone is right about who the political culprits are for such high drug prices. The floodgates were opened when Congressional Republicans passed Medicare D and Bush signed it into law. A rider on that bill prevents the Medicare Administration from negotiating drug prices with Big Pharma thus taking competition out of the picture. The Veteran’s Admin. was exempted at the time which is why vets pay a dime on the dollar for the same drugs that the rest of us pay out the nose for.

      Democrats tried to rescind the rider when they passed the ACA but the GOP blocked their efforts. Trying to pass the buck by blaming Democrats for high drug prices is nothing more than revisionist history and false equivalency.

  10. Katherine

    OK — WE ALL know that generic drugs have taken giant leaps and bounds — Example — my $10 Levothyroxine 90-day Rx jumped to $50 this year – – –

    The question is: What can we — the consumers — do about it? To Whom do we complain?

    • Ladyliza

      I take Nature-throid for hypo thyroid. My Armour brand skyrocked for no reason so I asked my doctor for a change. I pay around 20 for a 3month supply. Insurance doesn’t cover it so I watch my pennies.

      • John A,

        LadyLiza, The Armour went up (mine went to $100) because another pharmaceutical company bought out the maker of Armour. I researched a substitute and found NP thyroid (same ingredients as Armour at $23 for 90 days). My pharmacist of 20 years told me that no, he couldnt order it for me.

        I found an online pharmacy in Kentucky, licensed in all 50 states, 7 years in business, with a high rating, free shipping. I had my doctor (who was familiar with the company) fax them prescription. I also ordered the Ambien generic for $15/mo which was much less than my pharmacy of 20 years.

  11. Janis Morris
    Irvine ca

    I’ve taken etodolac (generic for Lodine) for sciatica for years. It’s the only Nasaid that works for my lower back and leg pain. Typically it cost $2.61 for 60 pills. Thats a month’s sup ply but I only take it on an as needed basis.
    Effective Jan.1st it went to $40.00.
    Close to a 500% increase.
    Etodolac has been around for decades and decades yet this big increase for no apparent reason, unless you factor in greed.

    • Ladyliza

      If you want to get off your pharmaceutical drug I suggest you try serrapeptase for your pain. It works by easing the inflammation in your body and its the inflammation that is causing you pain. It works but follow the directions as it must be taken on an empty stomach. Your doctor will never give this to you as he probably never heard of it. Two of my doctors have and recommend it.

  12. tom-tom

    One med that I use, the generic price is around $60/tab. The brand name is around $62/tab. In either case, medicare automatically knocks around 2/3rd off any invoice that they receive. The problem for me is that I myself can’t knock anything off the bill the pharmacy gives me.

  13. Judy
    Durham NC

    About the cost of generics– one of our dogs has been prescribed enalapril for a heart condition for many years. A three month supply was about $20 for all of that time until last week. We went to pick it up at the pharmacy and learned it was now $110 for the same amount.

  14. Edward
    Summerville, SC

    We seem to have a big problem with our regulatory agencies in this country. First it was banks too big to fail and now it pharmaceuticals stifling competition. What were these regulatory agencies doing while these companies ripped off the public?

    The cost of manufacturing didn’t go up. Salaries and wages didn’t go up, except maybe for the CEOs. Advertising and marketing didn’t go up. The only thing that went up is greed.

    Ethics needs to be taught from an early age so that it is ingrained in everyone one of us. There is no room for robber barons in our society anymore and there is no room for the evils of greed. A functioning society requires that we are each cognizant of our role in society and how we are all interdependent.

    • Lola

      I wholeheartedly agree. Ethics, also known as THE GOLDEN RULE is not dead, just buried deep within us. We need to dig is up and put in back in our homes, our schools, and our hearts. Just think, bullying could be the first to go. Not everybody will subscribe to this, but enough good people will to change the world. Oh, I see I am repeating something proposed over two thousand years ago, and I am not nearly so eloquent. But you are most definitely right!

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