Monday, May 15, 2017

America's criminal-minded drug companies: here we go again.

Don't ask why. Just open your wallet
wide and swallow this.
Martin Shkreli, the grinning ripoff artist whose infamy in part came from raising the price of a take-it-or-die drug from under $14 to $750 a pill — and who was charged with securities fraud in another matter — is no longer merely  a smirking sleaze bag. 

He's now also a pharmaceutical industry role model. 

The latest to follow his ethical lead is Avanir Pharmaceuticals. Here are some excerpts from a recent article by Julie Appleby in the New York Times. The story concerns TV commercials for Avanir’s drug Nudextra, which treats uncontrolled laughing or crying.  (And you thought cancer was a scourge!) 

The phenomenon is called Pseudobulbar, or PBA.
PBA mostly affects those with neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, a recent stroke or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Because the definition of the condition is ambiguous, estimates of its prevalence vary. Doctors may find PBA common or uncommon, depending on their specialty. Avanir sets the number at two million Americans. 
The market has proved lucrative. Nuedexta’s sales rose to $218 million last year from about $37 million in 2012, according to EvaluatePharma, which tracks pharmaceutical pricing and markets. 
“I suspect this disease is being redefined to include overly emotional people” through advertising, said Adriane Fugh-Berman, a doctor who teaches at Georgetown University Medical Center and has investigated pharmaceutical marketing practices. The United States is one of two countries that allows advertising of prescription drugs.
Nuedexta has also attracted attention because it is expensive, more than $700 a month for a supply of twice-a-day pills. The drug is a combination of two low-cost ingredients — an over-the-counter cough medicine and a generic heart drug — that, purchased separately, would run roughly $20 a month, according to online cost estimators.
The Times article goes on to point out that the proportions of the two medications are different in Nudextra than the normal dosages of each drug. So even if you find out what the two ingredients are, do not play pharmacist at home. 

But then this note:
Nuedexta doesn’t cure PBA, but it must be taken for the rest of a patient’s life to help reduce episodes of laughing or crying. While it’s the only drug approved specifically for PBA by the Food and Drug Administration, doctors have successfully used several less expensive treatments, all antidepressants, to treat the condition. 
“The cost for mixing two old drugs together is unconscionable,” said Dr. Jerome Avorn, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the chief of the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Right. Get ‘em on it, and hook ‘em for life. And not only do people who may (or may not) have Pseudobulbar pay through the nose. So does everybody else, through higher insurance rates.

It’s enough to make you want to laugh — or cry — uncontrollably.

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