Category Archives: Rx

COVID-19: ‘HOW MRNA VACCINES WORK’ (VIDEO)

Messenger RNA—or mRNA—vaccines have been in development for decades, and are now approved for use against COVID-19. Here’s how they work and what you should know about them. Visit https://www.jhsph.edu/covid-19​ for even more resources.

HEALTH: HOW ‘STATINS’ PREVENT HEART ATTACKS AND STROKES’ (CDC VIDEO)

Statins are a type of medication used to lower the level of bad cholesterol in the blood and reduce build-up in arteries that can cause a heart attack or stroke. This short animated video explains the importance of statins, how they work, and why your doctor may prescribe them.

HEALTH & RETIREMENT: A LOOK AT MEDICARE, MEDIGAP AND PART D DRUG PLANS

If you’re enrolled only in original Medicare with a Medigap supplemental plan, and don’t use a drug plan, there’s no need to re-evaluate your coverage, experts say. But Part D drug plans should be reviewed annually. The same applies to Advantage plans, which often wrap in prescription coverage and can make changes to their rosters of in-network health care providers.

“The amount of information that consumers need to grasp is dizzying, and it turns them off from doing a search,” Mr. Riccardi said. “They feel paralyzed about making a choice, and some just don’t think there is a more affordable plan out there for them.”

November 13, 2020

When creation of the prescription drug benefit was being debated, progressive Medicare advocates fought to expand the existing program to include drug coverage, funded by a standard premium, similar to the structure of Part B. The standard Part B premium this year is $144.60; the only exceptions to that are high-income enrollees, who pay special income-related surcharges, and very low-income enrollees, who are eligible for special subsidies to help them meet Medicare costs.

“Given the enormous Medicare population that could be negotiated for, I think most drugs could be offered through a standard Medicare plan,” said Judith A. Stein, executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

“Instead, we have this very fragmented system that assumes very savvy, active consumers will somehow shop among dozens of plan options to see what drugs are available and at what cost with all the myriad co-pays and cost-sharing options,” she added.

Advocates like Ms. Stein also urged controlling program costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies — something the legislation that created Part D forbids.

Read full article in NY Times

COMMENTARY

Medicare is a blessing. It is a great help to retired and elderly people and generally does the job it was intended to do. There are a great variety of Medicare supplement plans and pharmaceutical purchase plans, And they jockey and change every year.

I get a headache just thinking about how to compare these plans from my individual needs and and whether their cost is worth it. The take-home message from the New York Times article is that you can get individual attention from an advisor who presumably knows the field well.

The key acronyms are SHIP and HICAP, which stands for state health insurance assist program and California health insurance counseling and advisor program respectively.

The California number is 1-800-434-0222. Be sure to write down the medications that you are taking and Your diagnosed illnesses, as well as your financial status in order to make best use of the service.

—Dr. C.

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: ‘WHY THEY REMAIN HIGH-PRICED’

There may be few issues that unite Americans ahead of the 2020 election as do their concerns about the cost of prescription drugs.

A clear majority — 75% — of respondents to a July survey said the cost of prescription medicines would be among the factors likely to influence their votes this year, according to a report from Gallup and the nonprofit West Health. Gallup reported on results from 1,007 interviews conducted with adults between July 1 and July 24.

1. What are the 2020 presidential candidates saying they will do to lower drug prices?

Both President Donald Trump, a Republican, and former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, have highlighted insulin costs in their discussions of the need to lower drug prices.

In a January interview with the New York Times editorial board, Biden noted the widespread discontent among Americans about sticker shock often experienced at pharmacies. He spoke of a need for the federal government to act to make medicines more affordable.

“This is a place where I find, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, you think you’re getting screwed on drug prices. And you are, in terms of everything from insulin to inhalers and a whole range of other things,” Biden said. “So, again, can I guarantee that it gets done? No, but I can tell you what, if anybody can get it done, I can, and I think there’s a consensus for it.”

2. Why doesn’t Medicare, the biggest U.S. purchaser of drugs, directly negotiate on drug prices?

Congress has taken different approaches in designing the terms under which the two largest federal health programs, Medicaid and Medicare, buy drugs.

Medicaid is a program run by states with federal contributions and oversight. It covers people with low incomes and disabilities. Almost 67 million people were enrolled in Medicaid as of May 2020, including about 29 million children. In 1990 Congress decided that drugmakers who want to have their products covered by Medicaid must give rebates to the government. The initial rebate is equal to 23.1% of the average manufacturer price (AMP) for most drugs, or the AMP minus the best price provided to most other private-sector payers, whichever is greater. An additional rebate kicks in when prices rise faster than general inflation.

3. What’s the deal with rebates and discounts?

There’s widespread frustration among lawmakers and policy analysts about the lack of clarity about the role of middlemen in the supply chain for medicines. Known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), these businesses describe the aim of their business as making drugs more affordable for consumers. Insurers like Cigna and UnitedHealth operate some of the nation’s largest PBMs, as does pharmacy giant CVS Health, which also owns insurer Aetna.

“They will tell you their mission is to lower drug costs,” said Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter, a Georgia Republican, a pharmacist and a critic of PBMs, in a speech on the House floor last year. “My question to you would be: How is that working out?”

4. What is the “distinctly American” phenomenon of specialty drugs?

Kesselheim also has written on what he terms “Specialty Drugs — A Distinctly American Phenomenon.” That’s the title of a 2020 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine Kesselheim authored with Huseyin Naci, an associate professor of health policy at the London School of Economics.

In this Perspective article, Kesselheim and Naci look at how the “specialty” designation morphed from its origin in the 1970s. It then referred to a need for extra steps for preparation and delivery of new injectable and infusion products.

5. How much does it cost to bring a new drug to market anyway? 

The median cost for a medicine developed in recent years was $985 million, according to a study published in JAMA in March 2020, “Estimated Research and Development Investment Needed to Bring a New Medicine to Market, 2009-2018.”

“Rising drug prices have attracted public debate in the United States and abroad on fairness of drug pricing and revenues,” write the study’s authors: Olivier J. Wouters of the London School of Economics; Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; and Jeroen Luyten of Leuven Institute for Healthcare Policy, KU Leuven, Belgium. “Central to this debate is the scale of research and development investment by companies that is required to bring new medicines to market.”

Read full article

THE DOCTORS 101 CHRONIC SYMPTOMS & CONDITIONS #4: HEARTBURN (ACID REFLUX)

I have been having Heartburn for more than 40 years. The cause of Heartburn is leakage of acid from the stomach, where tissues have evolved to tolerate the highly acidic conditions, into the esophagus, where they haven’t.

The young body has an efficient, functional gate, or sphincter, keeping the food, once swallowed into the stomach, from coming back up. As you eat, you chew your food well to aid digestion. Your taste buds, sensing chemicals in the delicious food, activate saliva.

The salivary enzymes start the digestion of the carbohydrates in the food. If you eat slowly enough, you may be able to appreciate the digestion of tasteless starch, like in bread, into sweet sugar, right in your mouth.

You then swallow the food, which slips past another gate, called the epiglottis, diverting the bolus of food past your windpipe. This gate sometimes does not shut tight, and you choke on the food or drink. The food is then conducted into the highly acidic environment of the stomach.

The stomach evolved to be an acidic, “fiery pit”, inhospitable to any bacteria that came in with the food, thus protecting the stomach from infection. In the old days, there were a lot of bacteria, and the acidity of the stomach was useful, and evolutionarily conserved.

These days, the “fiery pit” tends to be a problem. As you get older, the gate that keeps food in the stomach gets more floppy and relaxed, and allows food to come back up into the esophagus, and sometimes, most often at night when you would rather be sleeping, all the way up to your throat, and is inhaled into your windpipe and lungs in what is called “gastroesophageal reflux”, or GERD.

Even if the food, and acid, doesn’t make it all the way up, and stops at the esophagus, which has not evolved to tolerate acid, you will have “heart burn”. Of course it is not the heart that is burning, but the esophagus, which runs right past the back of the heart as it goes all the way from the throat to the stomach.

When I first developed Heartburn, all that was available was the flavored chalk, Calcium Carbonate, sold as Tums. It works right away, and is a source of Calcium, but can cause trouble, like kidney stones, if you take too much. The relief didn’t last long enough for me, and I had to take more in the middle of the night.

My next medicine was Xantac, a medication that blocks histamine from stimulating acid production in the stomach. The H2 blockers have recently been recalled because of NDMA contamination. I sometimes used H2 blockers like Xantac when my patients would get a bad allergic reaction. In such cases BOTH an H1 blocker like Benadryl, and an H2 blocker are called for.

Zantac was not strong enough for me, and I soon graduated to Prilosec,which directly blocks the secretion of acid in the stomach.

Prilosec was then very expensive, but now is available as the inexpensive GENERIC Medication, Omeprazole. It seems that no medication is without side effects.

Omeprazole, by reducing stomach acid, makes stomach and GI infections more likely, and interferes with the absorption of B12, and Calcium.

If you have had a lot of heartburn over a long period of time, you should check with a Gastroenterologist, who may scope you to rule out Barritt’s esophagus, which can lead to Cancer.

It is interesting that the antacid Tums in excess can cause too MUCH Calcium in the body, and can cause kidney stones and other kidney problems like MAS, and Omeprazole, by interfering with absorption can cause too LITTLE absorption of Calcium, leading to OSTEOPOROSIS.

The best rule is to take as low a dose of ANY medication as possible, preferably none, to understand the possible side effects, and compensate for them if you can.

–Dr. C

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: “ON MEDICATIONS IN GENERAL”

Several ideas apply to ALL MEDICINES. Terminology should be clarified. Medicine, Pharmaceutical, and Drug, in my mind are equivalent.

The term “drug” is pejorative, and I try to use it so. The term “Pharmaceutical” is too long, leaving me with “medication”.

There are some Practical points. You should look at your prescription when you first get it, to make sure it is the right one. Yes, pharmacists rarely make some mistakes. They are human.

You should ask the Pharmacist if she knows WHERE the drug was manufactured. Foreign countries, especially China and India, are less reliable, and the USA is safer. The original Brand Name drugs are more often domestically produced, but even these are being “offshored”.

Next, check the prescription date and expiration date.You should get a ” SHELF LIFE” (the difference between the two) of about 2 years, otherwise, you might ask the pharmacist the next time to give you the “best dating” in his stock.

Store your medications in a cool, dark, dry place in order to prolong their life. Light, heat and moisture degrade most compounds. Remember the O.J. Simpson case? Part of the reason he was acquitted is that a critical DNA sample was stored in a plastic bag, which retained moisture, rather than a paper bag, which is recommended because paper is porous, and allows moisture to escape.

You should follow the suggested TIME to take the medication, because there is almost always an optimal time to take a given medication.

CHRONOPHARMACOLOGY is an emerging field, which is finding that more than 50% of medications are TIME SENSITIVE in their effect in the body. This is an unimportant, academic consideration for most Patients, given the high THERAPEUTIC WINDOW (dosage latitude) of most medications, the mild illness of most patients, and the disinclination of most Doctors to add one more detail onto their already heavy load.

In discussing the medicines in my cabinet and a few other important ones, I will be addressing TIMING.

What about OUTDATED MEDICATIONS? As discussed by the following article from Harvard, the dating is not critical except for liquids, and a few others, like Tetracycline.

This is fortunate, given the expense of medications today. What if I drop a pill on the floor, at home. I usually pick it up and take it. if i just dropped it, unless it is very inexpensive.

What if a pill sticks in your throat, like happens to me a lot? I drink water first, to moisten my throat to make it slipperier.

Next, I take a good sip of water, try to swish it back and go back with my head to accelerate the pill backward, and think confidence. Certain sizes of pills are my nemesis and i have to break them in two.

Please follow Dr. Cs Medicine Cabinet in future postings of DWWR.

–Dr.C.

Further reading