Category Archives: Rx

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.”

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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

CORONAVIRUS: CONFUSING HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE STUDIES (NATURE PODCAST)

President Trump’s preferred coronavirus treatment is the focus of a new study suggesting it could cause more harm than good, but not everybody agrees. We discuss the fallout as trials around the world are paused and countries diverge over policy advice.

12:12 Are we rushing science?

Coronavirus papers are being published extremely quickly, while normally healthy scientific debate is being blown up in the world’s press. Is there a balancing act between timely research and accurate messaging?

18:49 One good thing

Our hosts pick out things that have made them smile in the last week, including hedgerow brews and a trip into the past using AI.

Recipe: Elderflower ‘Champagne’

Video: Denis Shiryaev restores historic footage with AI

22:30 The latest coronavirus research papers

Noah Baker takes a look through some of the key coronavirus papers of the last few weeks.

News: Coronavirus research updates

medRxiv: Full genome viral sequences inform patterns of SARS-CoV-2 spread into and within Israel

Harvard Library: Reductions in commuting mobility predict geographic differences in SARS-CoV-2 prevalence in New York City

Science: DNA vaccine protection against SARS-CoV-2 in rhesus macaques

DR. C’S MEDICINE CABINET: “WHY PATIENTS TAKE ELIQUIS”

Eliquis nicely illustrates my contention in the Overview of Metabolism, that the body is a vast collection of pathways, or “supply chains”. Eliquis blocks a critical enzyme in the pathway leading to coagulation, or clotting” as the product.

Why in the world you want to block clotting? The staunching of blood flow, clotting, has saved countless hordes of early, Paleolithic humans, and continued useful through the bloody Roman and Medieval times, right through the violent 20th Century.

Recently, however, wars are becoming somewhat less popular, and eating excessively more popular, leading to a strange situation. Our evolutionarily-preserved CLOTTING mechanism is now leading to MORE problems than it is solving.

Obesity and type 2 Diabetes are leading to the production of so much fat, that it has to be stored in our arterial walls, clogging the blood flow to our Hearts and Brain, among other areas. This, and the somewhat surprising trend towards longer lives has led to an increase in a variety of age-related illnesses.

When I reached 80 years of age I developed Atrial Fibrillation, a condition leading to a tendency to form clots in my quivering atria, the upper chambers of my heart. To decrease the likelihood of clots getting into my blood stream, lodging in my brain and causing STROKE, my cardiologist started me on Eliquis, an anti-coagulant/blood thinner.

Drugs have three names. The proprietary name, Eliquis in this case, is given by the patenting company to be memorable; q,z,and x are popular letters. The second is the FDA drug name, Apixaban. The drug name often gives the doctor a clue as to its type: xaban refers to inhibiting (banning) of factor 10a (Xa). The third name is a chemical name of interest to biochemists and drug researchers.

When I started the Eliquis, at first unknown to me, I started to bleed internally, leading to a drop in my hemoglobin down to 8.6. I will go into this story when I start going through “how to read your laboratory report”.

I found that reducing my Eliquis from 5mg. to 3.75 mg. allowed me stabilize my hemoglobin by taking extra iron, which I will discuss later.

The doseage selected when the drug company markets a drug is fairly arbitrary, and usually involves round numbers. Interestingly, there is a 2.5mg. Eliquis, which is given if you meet 2 out of 3 criteria. I meet only one and am only 5 pounds shy of the second, in case you think (like my cardiologist does) that I’m taking a risk.

I believe that, whenever you are given a medication, you should be educated about the medicine, and the problem it is intended to benefit. Today’s physician often does not have the time to do this. The internet, including this website, offers a corrective.

I am trying my best to be helpful to you as a Patient Advocate. You and I both must have a doctor to rely upon. But to get the most out of our care, WE MUST BE INFORMED.

–Dr. C

CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: TRACING APPS, Antiviral remdesivir’S PROMISE

The Coronapod team pick through the latest news, plus we hear from the researchers making lemonade out of lockdown lemons.

In this episode:

01:10 Can contact-tracing apps help?

Governments around the world are banking on smartphone apps to help end the spread of the coronavirus. But how effective might these apps might be? What are the risks? And how should they fit into wider public health strategies?

Editorial: Show evidence that apps for COVID-19 contact-tracing are secure and effective

13:30 Antiviral remdesivir shows promise

Early results from a US trial of the antiviral drug remdesivir suggest it shortens recovery time for patients with COVID-19. We unpick the findings.

News: Hopes rise for coronavirus drug remdesivir

16:52 One good thing

Our hosts pick out things that have made them smile in the last week, including blooming trust in scientists, cooking experiments, and a neighbourhood coming together to clap for healthcare workers.

21:34 Unexpected opportunities

We hear from three researchers making the most of lockdown, studying tiny earthquakes, building balcony-based citizen science projects, or enlisting gamers to fight the coronavirus.

Fold-it, the protein-folding computer game