money and tablets, drug prices, collusion

The antibiotic tetracycline was first marketed in 1967. That means it is 50 years old and is available generically. The price of tetracycline should be very low. This reader discovered quite the opposite:

Q. I recently asked my doctor for a prescription for tetracycline to clear up my skin. Years ago, when I was 19 and my face looked like raw hamburger, this medication worked a miracle and was not at all expensive.

When I got to the pharmacy to pick up my new prescription, I was told my out-of-pocket cost for a 30-day supply would be $900, even though I have insurance. I can’t afford that! I don’t know anyone who could. What happened to tetracycline?

A. Like you, we were shocked at the price of this old generic antibiotic. Forty years ago, the brand name form of tetracycline (Achromycin V) cost just over $10 for a hundred 500 mg pills. The cash price today for 60 tetracycline pills is over $900.

Cheaper in Canada:

In Canada the price for 100 pills of tetracycline is under $50. We cannot explain why Americans pay so much more for this old medication. It is not that hard to make. Competition should drive the price down. But to our dismay, capitalism does not seem to be working when it comes to some generic drugs.

The Generic Drug Scandal of Price Fixing:

We cannot say for sure that tetracycline has been caught up in the price fixing scandal. In case you missed the headlines, 40 attorneys general allege that some prominent generic drug manufacturers may have colluded. There are charges of price fixing. There may also have been “agreements among competitors to allocate a given market so as to avoid competing with one another on price.”

What To Do About High Drug Prices:

If you want to learn more about the generic drug scandal, you will find our Guide to Saving Money on Medicine of great interest. We document the dramatic rise in generic drug prices over the last few years and discuss ways you can protect yourself from the greed that now seems rampant within the pharmaceutical industry. Is it possible to save money safely by buying drugs from Canada?

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  1. Patricia M

    Just insane the price is so high!!! Had it as a teen and was dirt cheap. This drug should cure cancer at this price. Insane!

  2. Robert
    North Carolina

    I am a periodontist(dental specialist who treats gum disease)practicing since 1982. Routinely treating advanced periodontal infections included adjunctive Doxycycline 100mg, daily for 21days at a cost of $13-$15. This drug worked wonders since it suppressed pathogenic bacteria present in deep infected gum pockets and also turned off enzymes which contributed to periodontal bone loss. The current price for this generic drug is driven by blatant greed.

  3. john

    Go herbal. Eat that raw garlic (mixed in a salad) , take the time to find alternative sources for the help your condition requires. Do the research. I was able to stop using Plavix, an anticoagulant, prescibed after a stent insertion, by using systemic enzymes. The enzymes also greatly improved blood circulation to my feet and now they are virtually normal (after nearly 2 years).

    I was approaching a time for amputation of toes! Systemic enzymes naturally remove necrotic material from arteries and improve (make more efficient) ones circulation. They are bought online and are affordable. I use Rejuvenzyme.

    • christopher

      Herbal murble, BS! That crap won’t even slow down a bacteria like Folliculitis. I’ve had it since 92′ courtesy of Uncle Asshole(Army Sam). Been a real nightmare w/ pain, scarring my scalp(lost hair) and it’s just plain disgusting to view. Good ole’ Tetra is the only thing to work but I cannot ever stop taking it. It comes right back. It really sucks but so does life.

  4. Malcolm

    You can’t have this sort of pricing for long without government protection of the companies. That is not free market capitalism. Nowadays we call it Crony Capitalism. In a free maket system it is plain corruption.

  5. Jim

    Until the government gets the drug companies out of the politicians pockets, I do not see any improvement in drug prices. The BS that the drug companies say is causing the increase in drug prices is just that BS. I am 75 years old and some of the drugs that have been prescribed for me I cannot afford even with insurance. I wonder how many people have died because they can’t afford their medications. Yes I said died.

    I take a drug called Anoro for COPD (emphyzema). Even with insurance, a 1 month supply cost is about $100 a month. They maker offers a discount program if you can’t afford the drug but if you have Medicare you can’t use it. The other problem is the side effects of the drugs. Some of the drugs affect your mental state others affect your physical well being. A doctor told me he understands about the side effects but prescribes the drug for what it was intended to be used for and ignores the side effects.

  6. GWC

    Several years ago before I was 65 and without medical insurance, my physician gave me the phone number for a Canadian pharmacy. The prices were so much lower. I lost that number long ago but if anyone has a reputable one, I’d like you to share with us here. Although I now have insurance, sometimes it won’t pay for a particular drug. Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.

    • Shirley
      Reply My endocrinologist recommended this company. They are reputable and their prices for many of their drugs are much cheaper than I would have to pay here in the U.S. even with Medicare.

      • Debbie

        I was so interested to see about the pricing. But when I looked it up, it says the domain name has been seized by the FDA. Of course our government doesn’t want us purchasing anything that might not benefit the big pharma companies and the politicians that they support.

  7. JD

    I’m not sure your pricing info is accurate. Using the GoodRx app I find 60 tetracycline pills in Dallas for $169 at Walmart. This is still outrageous and you’re correct about generic drug pricing issues but $900 is not correct

    • buddy

      I just left Walgreens where 60 capsules of 250 mg. was $521. I could only afford 30 capsules which was $260.

      I am old as dirt and it was formerly $6 for 90 capsules of 500 mg. (1980’s).

  8. Roberta

    Somebody somewhere needs to do something about generic and brand name drugs skyrocketing in price! A letter from your doctor does not make a difference anymore. Some drugs I can only take brand name as the fillers in generic cause me to have a problem, that does not seem to make a difference to the pharmaceutical industry. Case in point: I need to take the brand name Zestril instead of the generic Lisinopril. I developed very high blood pressure and a severe headache! They want to charge me over $900! What is a person to do?! I am facing imminent surgery and I do not want to be expierencing trial and error with BP medicine!

  9. ladyliza

    I might suggest she check the price of Accutane for acne. It worked wonders for my 2 children and even got rid of a lot of scarring on one child. It now comes in a generic and might be better than the side effects that tetracycline offers. Did you know that for some people their teeth can turn brown? This isn’t something that can be bleached away.

      • Susan

        Terry – please also warn people of the danger of sun exposure in people taking Tetracycline. It can cause a severe sunburn, even with minimal exposure. I don’t know if sunblock prevents this.

  10. bee

    This is one of two major reasons that I retired from practicing pharmacy, even at the expense of my livelihood. I could no longer justify participating in the pharmaceutical system that is no longer about health care, but is all about money in the pockets of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries and their stockholders. Every business needs to make a profit, but this is greed in the extreme!

  11. Beverly
    Fleetwood, PA

    Back in 1983, at nursing school, one of our instructors told us that the US consumer subsidizes drug costs for the rest of the world. We pay all of the research and development costs of these drugs. When drug costs are negotiated between US pharmaceutical firms and foreign countries, the representatives of these foreign countries tell the US pharmaceutical companies what they are going to pay for their drugs. Often , the foreign consumers of these drugs pay only about two cents on the dollar, for the same drugs made and sold here.

  12. L

    Also, continue to let your legislators know that this is an important issue for you. For some states it is too late for this to be worked on this session, but Congress needs to know how this is impacting the people in their districts. And when a bill comes up regarding medical costs, remind them again.

  13. L

    Call around for pricing. If there is a Costco in your area, call them too since you do not need to be a member to use their pharmacy and we have found them to be the least expensive in our area. Publix has at least one antibiotic for zero dollars, so just make calls. Ask about samples too. Some meds are also available, cheaper at times, through veterinary supply/feed stores.

  14. Jan

    This is just another example of how everything to do with the medical field has gotten out of control. The greed is rampant. Although the high cost for a generic drug is shocking, it is not surprising that it has happened. We need to ask our law makers to stop the greed. Lives depend on people being able to get care and have access to drugs. It is only going to get worse unless some one puts a stop to it.

  15. RG
    United States

    Thank you for addressing the high cost of prescription medication in the United States. I do not at this time take any prescription medication on a regular basis. However, I used to take medication for my high blood pressure, but was taken off it when my blood pressure readings improved. I remember that the cost kept increasing. It is shameful that there seems to be no control over price increases — especially when the prices for the same medicines are so much lower in other countries. This is a very important issue.

  16. Ray

    Tetracycline is also used for treating some plants and trees….. New on the scene is the use of Tetracycline for treating Greening in Citrus in Florida…Up goes the price as they find that they can squeeze the farmers.
    And, of course, we are along for the ride.

  17. DS

    I read that raw garlic, either chewed or cut up and swallowed liked a pill, is more powerful than penicillin or tetracycline. It is good for a lot that ails you. I did not know until recently that it should be raw.

  18. Stuart

    Of course there is price fixing. The best example is the price of erectile dysfunction drugs: Viagra, Cialis and Levitra. All of these drugs, from their introduction until today are all approximately the same price. Not once has one drug company sought to undercut the competition by lowering the price of their product. Coincidence?? Doubtful. I believe there is an agreement at the highest level of these companies to keep those prices high.

  19. Bob
    South Carolina

    You hear so many complaints about about government regulations. Well, this is a good example of why regulations are/should be put in place. You talk about tetracycline. Check out the price of aspirin. While the price is lower it has inflated way more than it should have given how old this drug is.

  20. Dianeliz

    I’m glad to see that People’s Pharmacy is now encouraging people to look at Canadian pharmacies. The savings can be substantial for drugs from the same manufacturers as their US equivalents.

  21. Herb

    This story demonstrates the need to shop around for the best price. On GoodRx the cost of 90 capsules of tetracycline without insurance ranges from $252 to $1248 for the pharmacies in my neighborhood!!!

    • Jim

      Medication and healthcare are simply a commodity.
      My groceries ar going up too.
      We end to get use to higher prices,as we are in a Capitalist Free Market society. The best economic system in the world.
      Our government believes competition will solve all our problems.

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