Thursday, November 15, 2012

URL Pharma Price-Gouging of Colcrys Is a Pain in the Foot

When I had my first gout attacks as a result of my Polycythemia Vera, the doctor prescribed colchicine to provide relief.  Colchicine is a generic drug that is 1,500 years old (it comes from the seeds of the autumn crocus) and was used by the ancient Egyptians and others to reduce inflammation and other pains.   

In 2010, my $10 prescription co-pay priced the pills at $0.16 each.

Last month, my rheumatologist prescribed colchicine again -- this time for extremely painful and inflammed joints and tissue inflammation (erythromelalgia).  

Bring back the colchicine!
I went to pick up the medicine and the pharmacy tech asked, "Are you sure you want this Colcrys?  It's $328.75."

"What?  I want the generic version, colchicine.  I don't need the name brand version." was my reply.
She went back to the pharmacist to ask about this.

How could a single pill go from costing $0.16 to $5.48?   What the heck?  

Here's what I learned:

In 1962, the FDA began a drug testing and approval process to make sure that new medications on the market are safe, effective, and accompanied with helpful information for physicians, pharmacists, and patients.  

In 2006, the FDA began the "Unapproved Drug Initiative" to get old medicines that have not gone through the FDA approval process off the market.  These old drugs were about 2% of the prescriptions written at that time.  The intent is good:  protect us from bad drugs and potential dangerous side effects and interactions of medications. 

It turns out that in 2009, URL Pharma agreed to take Colchicine through the FDA's review and approval process.  In return, it gets three (3) years of exclusive rights to sell the Colcrys for gout and seven (7) years to sell for Familial Mediterranean Fever (through the Orphan Drug Act).  

It also can price it however it chooses.  The FDA does not regulate pricing of drugs.
But how much is too much???   
I believe increasing the price by 34 times higher is beyond greedy... it is downright cruel to people who are ill and in significant pain.

So here's the practical rub:  

The study with 1,000 patients conducted by URL Pharma met FDA requirements, and it did not provide any new insights about the drug, contraindications, or interactions that were previously unknown to the medical community.

We are no safer today with colchicine (aka Colcrys) than before URL Pharma came along.  What was a generic drug (and quite affordable) has become a brand-name drug owned and sold in a monopolistic, predatory manner.

A rheumatologist told me that in a few years, it will go back to the $0.16 per pill.

I double-checked with my rheumatologist about this medicine, given my sticker shock.  
We decided that I would bite the bullet and get the colcrys.

Today, I went for my refill and learned that the price dropped a whopping $4.00 for 60 pills.  So this month, each pill costs me $5.41.  That's still predatory pricing in my book.

This drug that costs $5.41 per pill used to cost me $0.16 per pill.
The pharmacy tech that dispensed the Colcrys to me said, "Wow!  I couldn't afford to take this medicine if I had to.  You're lucky you can afford it."

I asked him if he sees a lot of patients who leave prescriptions at the counter because they are too expensive.  "Several times a day," he replied.  "Some people ask for a week's worth of a prescription because that's all they can afford this week or this month."  

His words really hit home... I am indeed lucky.  

I am married to a wonderful guy who has a great job with excellent health insurance coverage.  I have not been able to work in a meaningful way since struck by illness and that has taken a huge toll on me mentally and emotionally.  (We miss the earnings in our household budget, too).

If dear hubby lost his job and health insurance, I would be among the millions of "Un-insurables" with serious pre-existing conditions. 

The State of Georgia defers to the federal government's High Risk Insurance Program for people like me.  To qualify for the federal program, I would have to be uninsured for 6 months.  I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be able to afford 6 months of specialist visits and all my medications (we'd likely make too much money to qualify for patient assistance programs).  I would likely experience thromboses again and maybe a stroke out before I could access the medications again.

It's no wonder that medical bills are the #1 cause of personal bankruptcies in the United States.  People will do anything they can to ease the pain of their loved ones.

My parents taught us this maxim:  Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. 

This concept applies to many aspects of life, including price gouging.  

Imagine a world where people, corporations, organizations, and governments adhered to this!

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