Prices of certain pharmaceuticals should be protected

When it comes to diseases and treatment, access to a medication can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Pharmaceutical companies can present an obstacle, especially if they are focused solely on profit. Last week, a pharmaceutical company CEO and former hedge fund manager named Martin Shkreli made the news when he raised the price of an 62-year-old drug named Daraprim that is used both to treat toxoplasmosis and to prevent and treat malaria.

Part of the reason why this piece of news caused such a stir is because of the degree to which the price was raised: more than 5000%, from $13.50/tablet to $750/tablet. Clearly, the pharmaceutical system that is in place now is broken in some ways — a person or company should not be allowed to raise the price of a drug used to deal with treatable infections because the prevention of treatable conditions is really an issue of quality-of-life and human rights.

Take toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a condition caused by a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. The acute stage of the disease manifests with mild flu-like symptoms, but can have major effects on people who have compromised immune systems due to preexisting conditions such as AIDS. Daraprim can be used to treat toxoplasmosis while the disease is acute, and if a patient with AIDS is unable to get treatment, toxoplasmosis can result in seizures or eye damage. By making Daraprim unaffordable to anyone who has an average income (the increased treatment costs were estimated to be hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for some patients), Shkreli effectively restricted access to the drug for those who need it and consigned them to a worsened infection.

The increasing of drug prices by drastic amounts is not a new phenomenon — in 2013, Horizon Pharma increased the price of a pain-relief drug by 597%, and prior to starting Turing Pharmaceuticals which escalated the price of Daraprim, Shkreli himself worked as the CEO of another pharmaceutical company and raised the price of a drug used to treat a kidney disorder which, left untreated would result in continual, painful kidney stones from $1.50/pill to $30/pill. It doesn’t sound terrible but the medication would have resulted in an overall yearly cost to patients of around $100,000 per year.

It’s easy to say that patients should take different drugs if their usual prescription goes up in price, but sometimes the alternatives don’t work as well, or have negative side effects. Many pharmaceutical companies justify their price increases by saying that the increased profits will go towards improving current medications, but the scale of the price increases makes that reasoning implausible — it’s just too high of an increase, too quickly. And if your consumers can’t afford what they need, it will severely degrade their quality of life.

Health and quality of life are social justice issues. In the same way that hospitals try to ensure the best care for their patients, medications that are needed to treat preventable conditions should be capped at a price that is affordable, especially if the demographic that needs the drugs most isn’t able to buy them.

Leaving the patents available for predatory companies to buy means that the consumers of such medications are always at risk. If a disease is preventable or treatable, such as malaria or acute toxoplasmosis, we should facilitate that treatment as much as possible. Let’s keep the patents of such medications as public property, so that the prices can’t be tampered with at a whim. The price can be capped at a maximum, and by making them public property, the chemical information would be available for any company who truly wanted to do research and improve the treatments being used by patients today. Some medications can be patented — those that are in competition with other drugs in crowded markets where there are many possible alternatives aren’t nearly as essential as the ones being used to treat only one condition or disease. But let’s try to allow those who are middle or lower-class consumers access to essential medications so that predatory businessmen can’t take advantage of their vulnerability.

Related Articles

Back to top button