Dr. Mayer Davidson has long been frustrated by the rising cost of prescription drugs, especially in his area of expertise — diabetes.
He’s a professor of medicine at Charles R. Drew University and director of the diabetes program at the Martin Luther King Jr. Outpatient Center in South Los Angeles.
There must be a way, Davidson believed, to reduce the cost of treating what’s now one of the country’s fastest-growing illnesses. Only heart disease and strokes are more expensive to treat on average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Davidson had reason for hope after he and colleagues came across research suggesting that a World War II-vintage malaria drug called Plaquenil, or hydroxychloroquine, could improve the blood-sugar counts of people with Type 2 diabetes.
“The meds coming out now are just too expensive,” he told me. “Our hope was that an old generic med like this would make it easier and cheaper to treat people.”
Unfortunately, even though Davidson received a research grant, he never got to fully test his hypothesis.
As with many generics, the price of Plaquenil has risen in recent months. Davidson said the wholesale price of the drug was 50 cents a pill last year. It’s now $1.75 — a 250% increase. The retail price is about $3 for each 200-miligram dose, according to price-comparison site GoodRX.com.
Davidson said his team’s modest funding couldn’t support such a price hike. They were unable to buy enough Plaquenil, even at the wholesale price, to study its long-term effect on a meaningful number of diabetic patients.
“We had to close down the study,” Davidson said.
A decision like that has enormous ramifications.
The more than 29 million people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes represent about $176 billion in annual medical treatment and an additional $69 billion in indirect expenses, such as disability payments and reduced productivity, according to the CDC.
Overall healthcare spending for each person with diabetes runs almost $15,000 annually, according to the Health Care Cost Institute. That’s about three times more than what people without the disease pay each year.
“I don’t think people realize how big a problem this has become,” Davidson said.
(Click here to read the full article, written by David Lazarus, LA Times)