How to Exploit the Sick: Price-Hikes in Medicine
In 2015, Martin Shkreli (AKA ‘pharma bro’) garnered widespread criticism for his role in the price hike of an anti-parasitic medication called Daraprim. With the patent for Daraprim expiring in 2015, it was sold to Shkreli-founded Turing pharmaceuticals. The price per dosage of the medication jumped, under Turing ownership, from US$13.50 to US$750 within a matter of days.
Daraprim is used to treat the diseases associated with parasite infection in humans and may be used in conjunction with other drugs to prevent pneumonia in people living with HIV/AIDS. With no generic drug on the market at the time, Turing effectively had a monopoly over the medication and as such could afford to charge these exorbitantly inflated prices.
In more recent months, another pharmaceutical company has been ridiculed for a price hike of their own. Nostrum Pharmaceuticals, based out of New Jersey, USA was discovered to have raised the price of antibiotic Nitrofurantoin by a margin of 400%, from $500 per bottle to approximately $2300. Nitrofurantoin is the drug used for the treatment of urinary tract infections, and Nostrum pharmaceuticals holds the patent for its liquid form which is primarily taken by those who cannot be administered a pill.
The company’s founder and CEO defended the price hike, asserting that “[they] have to make money where [they] can”. What is apparent here is that the ability to monopolize the sale of certain drugs, due to patent protection or a lack of generic variety, allows for the exploitation of those who have no choice but to depend on medication. While pharmaceutical companies are widely criticized for these price hikes, many have also found fault with the FDA approval process which limits the ability of generic products to go to market. Any system which allows abuses like these to occur is not a system which works for the people.
Vanessa Gomes – Science Writer