Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Drug Shortages Raise Costs, Force Rationing

Herman Wenz's knee surgery took a turn for the worse when an infection set in last year. To keep his knee healthy, Herman's doctor prescribed doxycycline, a generic antibiotic to take every day for the rest of his life.

"The pill is to ward off any future infections," Herman said.

The drug was cheap. The first time Herman filled the prescription he says he paid $30 for 90 day supply. But this past Spring, Herman got sticker shock at the pharmacy when the price went up over 5,000%.

Herman said he couldn't get an answer as to why the drug price spiked, so he decided to Get Gephardt to investigate.

We began our investigation, first by calling multiple pharmacies which all confirmed they price of doxycycline went up in their stores when the manufacturer raised the price.

"The price of the drug has gone up exponentially over the past couple months," said Jolly's Corner Pharmacy pharmacist Ryan Lindquist.

Lindquist said it is not uncommon to see drug prices fluctuate, but doxycycline's price jump is extreme.

"I haven't seen it this much increase with one drug over such a short period of time," Lindquist said.

We tried multiple times to reach various manufacturers of doxycycline, but not one returned our calls. So we went to University of Utah hospitals and clinics and Director of Drug Information Erin Fox who says that drug shortages are to blame.

Fox says that recent changes to federal laws require manufacturers to notify the Food and Drug Administration of shortages. Our investigation found that there are currently 108 drugs on the FDA's shortage list.

Fox expressed frustration with the list because, while it lists shortages, the reasons behind those shortages are often vague. Take for example doxycycline which was added to the list about a year ago. The reason given by the drug makers for the shortage is, "increased demand." It does not elaborate which Fox says leaves questions like what, or who, is responsible for that increased demand.

The consequences can go beyond increased prices. Fox says that drug shortages force hospitals to ration medicine.

"Hospitals are having to decide which patient should get which drugs," Fox said. "That happens every day and it's a really scary situation."

The good news for takers of doxycycline is that the drug has been removed from the FDA list deeming it no longer in short supply. The prices seem to be taking some time to catch up at pharmacies, however. We called around to several pharmacies Monday. Each said that the price for that drug remains high.

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