Tag Archives: drugs

How America’s opioid crisis punishes those with chronic pain

There is a new miniseries on Hulu called “Dopesick” that explores the origins of the opioid epidemic that continues to devastate America. The actions of the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma in the marketing of their supposed “miraculous” pain medication Oxycontin, which they claimed was non-addictive, is generating a great deal of outrage on social media. Legal wrangling over a proposed settlement continues to play out in court.

There is another group who is expressing outrage: those who suffer from chronic pain conditions. I learned a lot about how brutal and devastating intractable pain can be by watching my mother die of cancer. The last several months of her life were torture because new laws designed to curb opioid usage made it difficult for my mother to procure the level of pain medication she needed. While health experts are quick to point out that the laws weren’t meant to target terminal cancer patients, my mother is proof that in fact they did. First was the burden of having to come into the office and see the doctor instead of being able to request a refill over the phone. Then there was the reduction in the amount prescribed and finally a battle in getting an opioid prescription filled at all. Her doctor mistakenly thought my mother wasn’t dying, but just addicted to opioids. When I tried to follow up, I was also treated with doubt and suspicion. The final battle came with trying to get my mother enrolled in hospice, so she could get access to the morphine that she so desperately needed. My mother only received morphine for about two weeks before she died, and I never felt like I was able to get her pain under control because it had been left unchecked for so long.

Unfortunately the addiction epidemic unleashed by Oxycontin has impacted those who actually need such pain medication to function. Beyond terminal conditions like cancer, there are incurable conditions that cause excruciating pain. Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS) is one such condition, which affects the joints and can cause nerve pain and dislocations among other excruciating symptoms. These victims of the opioid epidemic are often forgotten or made to feel like they are addicts for wanting access to effective treatment. They get told to try acupuncture or yoga, or change their diet, or try cannabis, etc. Most of these people have tried a variety of treatments and are frustrated that because of the addiction stigma, they are being denied access to what was the only treatment that worked for them.

Because of my mother’s experience with pain, I have compassion for and am not dismissive of those who are living with conditions that cause extreme pain. The medical community needs to do better to provide effective pain relief for those who truly need it.

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Will a dementia wonder drug suffer from price gouging?

color pills

If and when a medication that reverses and/or prevents dementia arrives, will anyone but the wealthy be able to afford it? I’ve been pondering this question ever since the pharmaceutical company Mylan was roundly criticized for drastically increasing the price of EpiPens, the common treatment used for severe allergic reactions.

As with Turing Pharmaceuticals and its 5,000-percent increase for its toxoplasmosis treatment Daraprim, Mylan issued a significant price hike for a drug that had been on the market for quite some time. But what about new drugs that are medical breakthroughs for diseases that have proven elusive to treat?

Let’s face it, a medication that could effectively treat dementia would be one of the major medical breakthroughs of modern times. (Of course we must consider that there are several forms of dementia, so a medication that can target Lewy Body Dementia may not work in Alzheimer’s patients, and vice versa. )

Focusing on Alzheimer’s disease, the demand for a proven effective treatment is going to be huge. In an NPR interview about how drug companies price their products, an expert reveals the main factor is how much are people willing to pay for the drug. The interview focuses on Gilead Sciences and its drug Sovaldi, which can cure hepatitis C in most cases. The medication was much more effective than anything else on the market at the time, and hepatitis C can cause serious health issues if left untreated. The medication only needs to be taken an average of 12 weeks, so the price per pill was higher than it would have been for a treatment that took longer. You may have seen the headlines, “A $1,000 pill.” It was true that Sovaldi was priced at a total of $84,000 per bottle when it launched in 2014, though thanks to competition and public outcry, it costs about half that now.

So how much do you think families who have a member battling Alzheimer’s will pay for a medication that could restore their loved one’s sanity? It’s easy to say that a cure is priceless, but in reality, there is a price tag on everything. Perhaps the more interesting question is if the government should step in and regulate prices in such cases, in the name of public health.

I know that if an Alzheimer’s cure pill had been available while my dad was alive, at the prices listed above, we would not have been able to afford it unless Medicare paid for most of it. While I am a firm believer in the free market, I also don’t think any family should have to let a member die because they can’t afford medication.

What are your thoughts? Should medical breakthrough drugs be more heavily regulated to ensure access to the general population?

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