logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

Public Finally Outraged At Extravagant Drug Prices

Drug prices have been out of control for years but it took the 5000 percent increase in the cost of Daraprim to wake up the American public. What changed?
Cash money bucket

The CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals has caved under pressure and promised to reduce the price hike of a drug used to treat toxoplasmosis. Martin Shkreli encountered a great deal more outrage than he bargained for when he boosted the price of Daraprim (pyrimethamine) by over 5000 percent. The drug is essential for treating a parasitic infection in immunocompromised patients.

People with HIV/AIDS or other conditions that impact the immune system are vulnerable to the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. Cats are a primary vector for transmitting T. gondii and a surprisingly large number of people (over 60 million) harbor the parasite without even knowing it. You might be surprised to learn that you too have this parasite lurking in your body.

This bug can also be acquired from food (lamb and pork) as well as unwashed fruits and vegetables. As long as you are healthy, there’s rarely a problem. But people undergoing cancer chemotherapy, high doses of corticosteroids or immunosuppressant drugs can experience an outbreak. Without appropriate treatment, toxoplasmosis can be deadly. The CDC states: “Toxoplasmosis is considered to be a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the United States.”

The Sleeping Giant Awakes:

The American public has been surprisingly silent about escalating drug prices (brand as well as generic). Many don’t worry like they used to because their insurance company or the U.S. government picks up the tab through the VA, Medicare or Medicaid. A co-pay of $20 or  even $40 doesn’t seem so bad, even if the actual medicine costs $250 or $300 for a month’s supply. Most people don’t care if the insurance industry is on the ropes because of high drug prices, though eventually those costs will be passed on to patients in the form of higher premiums.

But Turing Pharmaceuticals seems to have gone too far. Before the company bought Daraprim from Impax Laboratories a pill cost $13.50. Pricey, but affordable. After Mr. Shkreli and his associates raised the price to $750 a pill the public outrage was overwhelming.

Eventually the company decided to back down and lower the price, though we have not been told exactly what the new price will be. Doubtless, it will still be an expensive medication.

What About Other Medicines?

What has been lost during the furor over Daraprim is the outrageous cost of other medications. Generic manufacturers have been quietly boosting the drug prices of old medications that have long lost their patents.

Captopril (Capoten) was first approved by the FDA to treat high blood pressure in 1981. It was the beginning of a very successful class of medications called ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors. If you see “pril” in the name (benazepril, lisinopril, ramipril, etc) you can assume it is an ACE inhibitor. In 1996 captopril became available generically. This medicine used to be cheap as dirt ($0.02 per pill). According to the Chicago Tribune, the cost of captopril jumped over 3,000 percent between 2013 and 2014. One pill went up to as much as $2.04.

The antibiotic tetracycline, another fundamental generic drug, also skyrocketed in cost. According to the Chicago Tribune investigation, the price went up over 7,000 percent from $0.06 per pill to over $4 a pill between 2013 and 2014.

What About Brand Name Drug Costs?

These are just a few examples of the tremendous increases in generic drug prices that we have seen in recent years. When it comes to brand names, the problems are way worse. Americans pay outrageous prices for life-saving medicine. The leukemia drug Gleevec can cost over $100,000 a year. It saves lives that would otherwise be lost, but that price is overwhelming. In western Europe the drug costs less than a third as much. According to Reuters, the actual cost to make the drug abroad is under $200.

Are You Fed Up with High Drug Prices Yet?

Are you outraged by the 5000 percent overnight increase in the cost of Daraprim? What about other drugs? There have been calls for some sort of restraint on run-a-way drug prices. Perhaps the pharmaceutical industry will learn from this debacle and reconsider its pricing policies, especially for life-saving medications. If the public gets mad enough the industry could face some very angry politicians.

Rate this article
4.8- 42 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Saving Money on Medicines

This online guide offers in-depth information on how to safely buy prescription drugs from Canada, assess generic drugs, qualify for free medicine from drug companies, and more.

Saving Money on Medicines
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing 32 comments
Add your comment

Horrible, vicious, unadulterated, unapologetic greed! Taking drugs away from a sick person who needs them is worse than taking candy from a baby, or looting someone’s house in a natural disaster… It’s the worst of the worst.

And there’s now, it seems, a SPATE of these same examples, where monied interests buy up a pharma house and then jack up the prices stratospherically. In some cases, this is tantamount to committing murder. There’s no way it should be allowed.

All good thoughts, but if Congress does not act soon these costs (both of drugs and insurance) will stagnate the economy. Then we will all pay, even the healthy. Congress needs to correct the back door costs they included in the Affordable Care Act.

I completely agree with this idea and hope that some day it will be implemented.

Our government, unlike governments in many other countries, does practically nothing to protect its citizens–us–from such forms of greed. Shame on them and shame on us for not taking them to task for it.

Big Pharma is second only to Wall Street/financial institutions in level of repugnance.

We need more government regulation of the drug industry. When you hear a politician say he is for less government it means he is FOR letting big business like BIG PHARMA run amok. Contact your congress person and tell them you want protection against these thieves.

Talk about price gouging. Where is our corrupt government on all of this ? It can’t be because of money under the table….I wonder!

How very sad it is to see such outright greed, the company can still make a very good profit without gouging the public , especially life saving medicines, may this gentleman never know what it feels like to not be able to afford a medicine that will save a love one, it is apparent from his actions that he intended to do this as soon as he bought the company. Greed and excess is so apparent , I don’t believe he will lower the price much, and then wait until he is out of the spotlight to raise again, he makes us all a shame of his behavior. Remember what goes around, come around, his turn will come big time ! Wonder if the smirk will look work then, after all it’s just business, to bad for the people that can’t afford his type of business ethics.

Nothing will change. The lobbyist control the politicians. It’s called greed. Keep dreaming.

I have heard for years that other countries pay far less for the same prescriptions that we receive. The excuse is that when a new drug comes on the market, we pay for testing that new drug. Well if the U.S. is paying for the testing & everything else that goes along with bringing a new drug on the market, why aren’t the other countries paying more?

Everything about it is frustrating. Most recently I discovered that Flonase is now OTC. Of course, it’s over $20 for 120 sprays (and that was with a $4 coupon), but who’s counting, right? Even worse is I now realize that the generic my insurance company made me buy for years didn’t work nearly as well. It never got me through the night. I’m doing much better with Flonase.

Well if the drugs are going to kill you you may as well spend your money!

I have suffered with Arthritis for many years. About a month ago I got up from bed and fell on the floor. My legs just gave out and I eat in excruciating pain from the knee down. I lay on the floor for 6 hours unable to reach the telephone. When taken to the hospital I had tests done and the consensus was that I had rheumatoid arthritis. I had had it for many year my Dr said after seeing my fingers all bent and out of shape.

The Dr prescribed the generic for Plaquenil..and told me it was a low cost drug that has been on the market for many years. Well, the pharmacy I go to called me to be sure I wanted to fill it as the cost would be $154. They told me it had been $4 for a 30 day supply and then the manufacturer took it off the market. When it became available again it was $154. I called some other pharmacy and the price was even higher. I wrote the manufacturer for help. The same company makes both the name brand and the generic. They told me they did not have any assistance program like some other companies do.
I found a coupon on line but my pharmacy doesn’t take it. I called CVS they said I could bring it the coupon but it may not be the price the coupon (from good rx) quoted.
I got the med from my pharmacy and after a month I am noticing a difference in haw I feel.
I hope that now the drug manufacturers get the hint and lower prices but they will never be as low as they were.

Further endangering patient health is the fact that those who have taken a brand name RX for years and are then suddenly forced to use a generic, the generic is often ineffective.

My wife has to take Prozac-she took the (affordable) name brand for 15 years-it now costs $5000 for a 90 day supply, and the generic is ineffective. I took Uroxatral for years; it was affordable. It is now $1200 for a 90 day supply and the generic (Azfuzosin) is worthless-verified by a Harvard Med School study.

Big Pharma are thieves and must be brought to justice. Medicare D will not pay for name brands, and, thanks to former Rep. Tauzin, Medicare cannot negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma. Prescription drugs are the largest expense for my family-the cost (thievery) is unsustainable and congress does nothing.

What a shame now that we’re in our “golden Years” (or should we call it our rusty years!) and we have poorer health—we must worry if we can buy our medicine. Every president, along with congress & senate, no matter the party, seems to pass laws to help the average person with their concerns, which are food, medicine, education, safety. Government meddles in too many things that are not their business and ignore the very things that should be their concern. Skyrocketing medical costs is one of them.

I have what I think is a fair solution for everyone: The US should require the drug makers to sell its drug in the US for the lowest price given to any of the developed countries. Instantly every country would fall in line and pay the same price, and drug makers would be paid by all countries at a price they negotiated.

How does the advertising of drugs on television and in magazines affect the price consumers pay?

Advertising adds significantly to the COST of marketing prescription drugs. In the distant past, manufacturers weren’t allowed to advertise prescription drugs — until Big Pharma rigged a new set of advertising rules which permitted them to advertise if they would publish all the fine print mumbo jumbo (that no one but a physician understands) in all print ads. In many countries in Europe, it is ILLEGAL to advertise prescription drugs. In U.S. advertising, the print ads are frequently three full pages of fine print — making each product ad significantly more costly than a full page automobile ad, for instance. Super glossy TV ads with expensive computer graphics, plus tons of clever on line tracker ads that follow you from site to site plus in-store promotions, are all high cost items which are churned into the retail price of the drugs. But with markups going through the roof with Pharmasharks charging whatever they need to feed their investors, pharma advertising doesn’t deduct as big a percentage of profit as it does for autos, electronics, and other goods. Pharma advertising is keyed toward increasing your anxiety about your health (“Ask your doctor if this is right for YOU!”) instead of professionally addressing the medical problem and telling you how the drug may or may not help. Outlawing advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. would significantly lower the high cost of marketing drugs, allowing reputable manufacturers to sell their products at more reasonable prices. Alternately, setting strict guidelines for advertising formats to adhere to professional information only, would lower the thermostat on the present free-for-all Big Pharma advertising and sales promotions that add significantly to their marketing costs.

Not only are the generic prices increasing greatly, but the insurance companies are increasing the drug tier level which increases our co payment significantly. The insurance companies are not being questioned for their tactics and their profits remain unchallenged. They [insurance companies] should be thoroughly investigated for their actions.

I can only hope that Mr. Shkreli himself may some day need an unbelievably expensive medication and not be able to afford it. Hopefully what goes around comes around.

what makes me scorching mad is when you go to the hospital, and you already got your medicine with you. Like they charged me $10 each for a blood pressure pill when I had my own with me. I told them I had it with me, but know that was not allowed. So stay out of hospitals if you can.

Valeant pharmaceuticals has also been skyrocketing the price of their old name brand drugs. I pay $503.00 for 30 tablets of 5mg vasotec(name brand). I was paying over $1500.00 for 60 tablets of 1mg ativan(name brand)…..every month they keep going up.
Generics do not work as well for me because of their releasing agents. This is almost criminal.

The smug look on that young guy’s face just makes you want to slap him. There’s something drastically wrong with our medical system that enables unbridled greed to do outrageous actions such as this. I’m sure his parents must be most proud of him. {:-(

I do not have drug insurance, only basic Medicare. I buy my drugs from a reputable pharmacy in Canada and find the prices to be reasonable and more affordable than drug insurance. The insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industries are trying to stop my ability to buy affordable medicine from Canada and I am outraged at their attempts. I also think people take way more medicine than needed and think it is easier for a practicioner to write a prescription than to practice good medicine. They are writing prescriptions to manage the side effects of previous prescriptions and making people sicker than they need to be.

What’s particularly galling is that other countries negotiate the prices their medical systems pay, so we in the U.S. are basically subsidizing those lower prices.

Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University has some good suggestions about what can be done (http://huff.to/1LAtoWz). He includes an idea I’ve talked about for years, which is that when we taxpayers pay for some of the research in pharmaceutical development, we should share in the property rights.

That’s ingenious–the idea that we should share in the benefits because we pay the cost of research through NIH and our universities!

It is about time that the drug companies’ feet were held to the fire about overpricing medications. I think they should all be investigated regarding their pricing policies. I agree with the following suggestion :
“Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University has some good suggestions about what can be done (http://huff.to/1LAtoWz). He includes an idea I’ve talked about for years, which is that when we taxpayers pay for some of the research in pharmaceutical development, we should share in the property rights.”

I also think that patients should receive accurate information about the testing done on each drug. This information should be written in language that the average person can understand.

We are not subsidizing the lower costs in other countries. We are subsidizing the billions of dollars that Big Pharmaceutical donates to our government; more than any other industry. Not to mention the billions of dollars in fines paid to the FDA for misrepresentation , misinformation , and downright fraud and then just lie low for a few years then start all over again!

I fear if they, by law, lower the cost of generic drugs, they will increase even more the cost of brand name drugs. Sometimes, only the brand name is productive.
I have no basis for this fear through. It is just a nagging thought. When businesses are immoral, and the government has to take over, in my humble opinion, they usually make things worse.

I have used Armour thyroid for years. It is a wonderful alternative to Levothyroxine. Forester laboratories sold the company, and now every time I get a refill the price is up by 40-50%. My drug plan for insurance is useless, and I end up paying most of the cost. I feel totally ripped off by the company. There should be price controls on medications.

this is an example of a smug punk lining his pockets out of shear greed…..

If the money were going to our government through taxes and fines, that should help to reduce the national debt. I don’t think that’s happening, at least in a great quantity. When we read about financial crimes, they are always to benefit some one or two men at the top of the food chain. When businessmen complained a few years ago about how Obamacare would raise the cost of foods and services because of the added benefits for employees, they were businessmen who had outrageous wealth as compared to our average citizen. I believe the greater portion of the cost of drugs is going to all the executives who think they deserve to live in two or three ridiculously luxurious houses and put their cars in garages more spacious that some people’s homes. Capitalism is good, as long as it has controls to limit the lopsided accumulation of wealth. They can’t have that sickeningly excessive wealth without our paying for it, our contributing through our purchase of their products and our contribution by our cheap labor. We are paying twice! To top it off, some of those meds are actually destroying our bodies. I have reflux, but the medicine I was given caused excessive swelling in my legs such that I became unable to go up more than a few stairs. I attributed to increasing age, but the legs improved almost to normal (except for moderate arthritis) when I stopped the medication. We have to take our own health into our own control as much as we can by eating for health, exercising, using old-fashioned remedies, refusing to take all the pills that doctors offer without hesitation, and learning as much as we can about our health problems.

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^