Pharmaceutical Nightmare

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.