Martin Shkreli, the 32-year-old CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals has been under fire recently for manipulating drug prices. After purchasing the drug Daraprim in August, Shkreli raised the price from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill, a jaw-dropping increase of 5,400 percent.
Daraprim is a drug used to treat a parasitic infection known as toxoplasmosis, being used both to prevent and treat these infections, and primarily prescribed to patients with compromised immune systems, such as those suffering from AIDS or cancer.
Daraprim is a generic drug that has been on the market since 1953, but because of the price hike, the average patient went from paying $1,130 for a course of treatment to $63,000. For patients need- ing a longer course of treatment, the new price could be as high as $634,000. Shkreli has repeatedly defended the price increase, saying it was a necessary move to make the drug more profitable, stating the increase was “not excessive at all.” He even went as far as saying that he was being “altruistic,” as he intends to use the profit to develop a better drug for toxoplasmosis.
I will be the first to say that I think Shkreli is a slime ball. Should I find myself in close contact with him, I’m sure I would have the urge to punch him in the face, throw up or both.
But Shkreli is only the face of a much bigger problem. Turing Pharmaceuticals is not the first company to hike the price of a generic drug. There are numerous other examples of companies raising the price of decades-old generic drugs by huge amounts. To name a few, Captopril, a hypertension and heart failure medication, increased by 2,800 percent from November 2012 to November 2013, from 1.4 cents/pill to 39.9 cents/pill. Clomipramine, an antidepressant that also treats obsessive-compulsive disorder, went from $0.22/pill to $8.32/pill, a 3600 percent increase. The price of doxycycline hyclate, an antibiotic, on the market since 1967, went from $0.06/pill to $3.36/pill, a 5,000 percent hike. And these are just a few.
The cost of prescription medications in the United States is a growing area of controversy. In 2014, the United States spent $374 billion on pre- scriptions, a 10 percent increase from 2013, even with accounting for inflation.
There are two reasons for the increasing cost of medications. The first is the high cost of new, innovative drugs. To get a drug to market, phar- maceutical companies spend between $800 million and $1 billion on research and development. They are given exclusive rights to produce the drug for 20 years, and often charge high prices during this time to recoup R&D costs. Additional time for the patent may be granted in certain cases.
The second cause for the increasing cost of prescription medication comes through the actions of those like Shkreli. Unlike the research-based motivation, these price increases are for generic drugs that have often been on the market for decades. Patients who need these drugs, and depend on the low cost of generics, cannot afford price hikes like this.
While Shkreli said that the additional revenue would go toward future R&D, many disagree with this tactic. CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus said, “Patients shouldn’t be taxed and charged for future research and development. Patients should pay for the drug they’re getting and what they need in the situation that they are. It’s predatory practice and it’s inappropriate.”
Pharmaceutical companies have never been held accountable for pricing of their products in the way that other companies are. If a person has a life-threatening condition, they’re not really in a position to bargain. They have no choice but to accept the often outrageous cost of prescription medications. Taking a stand could mean losing a life.
Change cannot come at the individual level. As a nation, we must find a balance between controlling the cost of medications while still providing incentives for drug companies to research new, innovative therapies. We need to demand that drug companies start accounting for the cost of their drugs.
While policy change takes time, we have at our disposal the tools to make these demands. Public outcry in the case of Shkreli and Daraprim has already begun to make a difference. Shkreli recently announced that Turing Pharmaceuticals would lower the price of Daraprim to make it more afford- able for patients, although he did not specify the new price.
The time of blindly accepting the decisions of drug companies is long past. We can no longer afford the costs of inaction.