Beware for the rant ahead:

At this point, most of us have heard about the Daraprim controversy, but for those who haven’t, Daraprim (pyrimethamine) is a 62-year-old drug that is used as the treatment for a life-threatening infection called Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is especially dangerous to people with compromised immune systems, such as chemo or AIDS patients, and also helps to prevent malaria.

Then Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, bought the exclusive rights to Daraprim – and immediately jacked up the cost from $13.50 per pill to $750, overnight. This changed the treatment plan from $1,130 to a crippling $63,000, leaving long term patients such as those with HIV crushed beneath an annual total of $634,000.  Shkreli’s less than charming response was this: “There’s this expectation that drug companies should act differently from other companies, because you have to buy their products. That notion needs to disappear.”  Examination of his Twitter feed — now private — revealed a luxurious lifestyle most people couldn’t dream of.

Angry yet?

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Well, so were many others. Obviously, the disgusting greed of this CEO’s decision speaks for itself. Yes, people DO view drug companies differently, and we have every right to.  We should view them differently. A company selling luxury furniture has every right in the world to charge whatever it wants, because its success is then dependent upon consumer choice: will the customer buy our beautiful leather armchair, or will he/she choose a cheaper/better/alternative model?  Same thing with candy bars, cars, silverware, and clothing. It’s a free market.

With drugs, this isn’t the case.  When a person’s very life is dependent upon a certain chemical combination that one company holds the rights to, when that person has no choice but to pay $634,000 a year — or die, if for some strange reason they don’t have billions of dollars tucked beneath their mattress — then we have a big problem, and it’s not going to go away unless people speak up about it.

Luckily, that’s exactly what’s happened. Since this hit the news, the massive outrage that has blasted out across social media has made it clear exactly how people feel about this kind of greed.  All over the internet, Turing Pharmaceuticals’s name has been dragged through the mud.

But now, there is some good news.

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The good news is that on Tuesday night, Shkreli came back with his tail between his legs. The outrage has caused Shrekli to announce that the price will be “lowered.” What he didn’t specify was how much they’ll lower it.

So now, that’s the first problem: until they announce how much they’re going to lower the drug’s price, there’s no guarantee that it’ll be anything affordable for the people who need it.  The second problem is this: how do we still have a system where such greedy profiteering in the health sector is even possible? 

The United States is the only developed country that allows drug makers to set their own prices.  Last year, Shkreli did exactly the same thing when he jacked up the price on a different drug, Thiola, from $1.50 to $30, bumping up the annual cost from $2,700 to $54,750. In 2011, Gilead Sciences more than doubled Sovaldi, a hepatitis C drug, to a cost of $84,000 for the 12-week treatment.  There are many more examples of this, if one goes digging.

What happened here with Daraprim isn’t something new: what is new is the media attention that this story has drawn to it, and that can only be a good thing.  The more outrage that this sparks in this country, the better chance that more attention can be paid to correcting this toxic system, and working together — on all sides of the debate, with all people — to fix problems like this, find better solutions, and build toward a better future.

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22 thoughts on “Pharmaceutical Nightmare

  1. I hadn’t heard about this case before, but it does some at one and the same time both outrageous and unsurprising.

    I may not be the best person to comment on a story like this because my views tend to the left and I have limited patience with the whole concept of companies making profits for shareholders and bonuses for bosses from creating drugs or providing medical treatment.

    I cling to the hope that for a species as allegedly intelligent as ours, there must be some way of structuring healthcare that doesn’t simply depend on market forces. I may be deluding myself and I know there are a great many people who vehemently disagree.

    • Oh, I’m totally in agreement with you on all that. It’s difficult to discuss a story like this without getting enraged.

      Glad it’s getting so much media attention, though, as that’ll make people more aware of incidents like this one. This is exactly the sort of thing that gets people thinking, talking and so on…

  2. I hadn’t heard about this, either, thank you. I this is is absolutely outrageous and agree that something needs to change. They shouldn’t be allowed to set their own prices. But hey, at least now the American people are becoming aware of the problem, and you’re helping to spread the word, man. I am so impressed with your compassion and your amazing heart!:)

    • Oh yeah, outrageous is definitely the word. The whole incident is so morally bankrupt that it’s hard to talk about it without getting riled up.

      And thanks man, I appreciate that! And I appreciate your frequent presence on the blog here, it’s always good to see you around!

      • I thought so, too. It really hard not to get excited about this issue, and it’s a relief that so many agree that his actions were horrible, immoral, etc…

        Thank you! I love your blog and so it’s always a pleasure to be here to chat.:)

  3. Thanks for writing about this, I have checked his twitter feed before it went private and this whole thing makes makes me mad, and makes me wonder why he has supporters that defend him on twitter. It was indeed a douchy move to up the price on a person’s life, then brag about a 9 thousand bottle of champagne on twitter. If only there were generic brands of these drugs. Turing Pharma released that they would make the drug available for $1 for those who will not be able to afford it but did not share how.

    http://www.rawstory.com/2015/09/ex-hedge-funder-who-hiked-aids-pill-cost-by-5500-percent-says-drug-still-underpriced/

    http://www.rawstory.com/2015/09/these-37-tweets-show-how-the-pharma-ceo-gouging-aids-patients-is-even-worse-than-you-think/

    What is happening to humanity? How can this guy enjoy his luxuries when people may be dying by the minute because of what he did? People can’t be passive and forget about this.

    • It seems almost impossible to imagine that anyone could so willingly — and so cheerfully — commit such an immoral action, honestly. Raising the price so astronomically was, for all intents and purposes, putting a death sentence to anyone who needs the medication, and/or bankrupting them, while in the meantime gloating about $9000 bottles of wine, and helicopter rides into NYC. It’s so utterly insane — like something a Batman villain would do — that it’s hard to believe that things like this actually happen in real life.

  4. I wish there had been a ‘love’ button…’like’ seems way too tepid to this topic. It’s this exact scenario as to why a single payer option would have been a far better choice with healthcare coverage and until you take ‘for profit’ out of the equation, we’ll be having this same gnashing of teeth. Keep fighting and ranting, Nicholas, I certainly intend to and with luck we can get this ship righted once and for all.

    • Agreed completely! Thank you for this. The fact that certain people/corporations reap such huge profits off of other people’s suffering is really one of the more horrifying aspects of society. Hopefully incidents like this one will raise more questions, fuel more conversations and help to create more change.

    • Thank you for posting this link, Andrea. I agree with you completely, and I signed my name right away.

      And yes, I think that incidents like this are good arguments for the benefits of social media; the immediate widespread awareness, the huge reaction, the response, et cetera…

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