Big Pharma’s Chokehold

Dr. Russell Sanders fumes after reading a NYT report on how drug companies price-gouge kids with asthma. One company, for example, charges Americans $250 for a nasal spray that retails for $7 in Europe:

I learned of this revolting turn of events a couple of years ago when a mother asked if there were an alternative I could prescribe for her child’s Flovent. Inhaled fluticasone is one of the most commonly used medications for patients with persistent asthma, a low-dose steroid that calms the chronic inflammation that predisposes these patients’ airways to spasm. Generic fluticasone was the medication I intended to prescribe (or, rather, renew) to keep this particular patient’s asthma in good control, thereby obviating the risk that she would have worsening of her illness and possibly end up hospitalized. She had no option to do without it.

“Why would she be getting Flovent?” I asked. “Fluticasone has been around for a million years.  I’m sure it’s available as a generic.” No.  Because of the requirement that CFCs no longer be used as propellants, all inhalers are shiny new hydrofluoroalkane (HFA) products.  Which meant new patents and much, much higher prices.  For the exact same medication. … [A]s the Times article makes very clear, the utter lack of cost control and patent regulation on these life-saving medications means pharmaceutical companies gouge my patients to their heart’s content.

Drum notes that Big Pharma invented this new stranglehold:

[T]he ozone layer was the initial cause of all this, so feel free to place some of the blame on environmentalists if you like. But as it turns out, scientists raised some early concerns about the inhaler ban because the replacement for CFCs was a powerful greenhouse gas. So they suggested that maybe it was better just to make an exception for asthma inhalers and let well enough alone. At that point, the pharmaceutical companies that had been eagerly waiting for the old inhalers to be banned went on the offensive. … [They] didn’t just take advantage of this situation, they actively worked to create this situation. Given the minuscule impact of CFC-based inhalers on the ozone layer, it’s likely that an exception could have been agreed to if pharmaceutical companies hadn’t lobbied so hard to get rid of them. The result is lower-quality inhalers and fantastically higher profits for Big Pharma.