On the price of medecine

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The price of prescription medication is starting to reach absurd levels. According to the FDA, more than 80 percent of prescription pills are generic, in an effort to compete with the rising costs of medical expenses. Somehow, this is achieving the opposite effect.

Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Senator Bernard Sanders, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging are conducting a congressional investigation on the rising price of generic drugs in the United States marketplace. Prescription drugs have risen from at least 200 percent to as much as over 8,000 percent, as in the case of doxycycline hyclate, an antibiotic. “It is unacceptable that Americans pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs,” said Sanders in a press release. “Generic drugs were meant to help make medications affordable for the millions of Americans who rely on prescriptions to manage their health needs. We’ve got to get to the bottom of these enormous price increases.”

The FDA doesn’t consider drug prices when it comes to approving new medication. On Friday, Oct. 10, the FDA approved Harvoni, a new drug for hepatitis C from Gilead Sciences that sells at $1,000 per pill. Harvoni was designed to provide a cheaper alternative to Gilead Sciences’ Sovaldi, a drug sold at $1,125 per pill, meant to be taken with other medication. Gilead Sciences defends its pricing on the grounds that the price reflects the pill’s value in the current market but neither insurance companies nor Medicare wish to cover that cost for patients.

In March, CBS’ “60 Minutes” aired results from an investigation aimed at discovering facts and issues in the pharmaceutical industry. According to CBS, an estimated $75 billion is made from counterfeiting drugs. Since people can’t afford medication, which at many times is a necessity, any and all alternatives are sought out. Furthermore, the counterfeit medication is impossible to distinguish from genuine products.

Drug trafficking can be extremely lucrative, and sophisticated company fronts can get counterfeits imported. “Think about that some of these pills can be manufactured, you know, for 40 cents and sold for $18 or $20,” said Kumar Kibble, deputy director at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. “I mean, just think of that profit potential […] it’s insane.”

Drugs are difficult to produce and involve enormous expenses, from discovery to the marketplace. Biological systems are still poorly understood, and many pharmaceutical solutions for diseases are worked out through repeated experimentation and, in many cases, luck. However, pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars on new medicine and have less incentive to produce cheap antibiotics, which bring low revenue, as opposed to expensive cancer drugs, which bring high revenue if successful. Because of high pricing from research and development, I think the medical industry is pushing the prices of brand and generic products alike. The price gap between effective and affordable medicine is widening, and the black market is only growing larger because of it.

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