October 19, 2018 by Dr. Varner in Policy , Prescriptions without Insurance

Ever heard of the drug Lovaza?

It’s a popular drug that helps to lower your triglycerides and raise your “good” cholesterol levels. It’s a bit pricey at over $300 for a month’s supply, but we can’t put a price on health, right?

However, if you take the time to look at the label on a bottle of Lovaza, you’ll find that it’s really just made up of omega-3 fish oil. Yes, the very same fish oil that you can buy at your local drugstore for around $10.

Is it more effective? Is it safer? Not quite. Check out this side by side comparison of Lovaza and your average fish oil supplement and you’ll see that they’re essentially the same thing. In fact, the generic version has an even higher dosage of omega-3 per pill.

Lovaza – Same as Your Regular Fish Oil

What happened was that this drug company basically took fish oil, modified it a little and then put it through the FDA’s approval process. This was a huge investment for the drug company to undergo the extensive testing and clinical trials required by the FDA.

In 2001, it was estimated that it cost roughly $802 million for a drug to be approved by the FDA, by 2014 that number had ballooned to a hair-raising $2.6 billion.

But for the drug company, it was well worth the cost. With the FDA’s stamp of approval, they are now able to charge 100 times more for this common supplement.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Fish oil is really good, I tell many of my patients to take it. But I would never tell anybody to take Lovaza because it is so overpriced.

And this is far from the only example of a drug company taking a normal over the counter supplement through the FDA process to gouge prices.

Rozerem – The Fake Melatonin

Another example is Rozerem, which is a sleep medication similar to melatonin. Since pharmaceutical companies couldn’t patent melatonin and sell it as a drug, they made a chemical that acts like melatonin in the brain.

That’s right. Instead of buying melatonin for five bucks at your corner drugstore you can buy a chemical that mimics the effect of it for $500. And you’ll need a prescription for it first, so you can tack a doctor’s visit on to that bill as well.

Epidiolex – FDA Approved CBD oil at 1,000x the Price

Even more outrageous, is a new drug called Epidiolex, which is targeted at treating certain rare forms of severe epilepsy in children and comes with a whopping $32,000 annual price tag.

What is this miracle drug? It’s actually just cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, a component extracted from cannabis without the THC.

The pharmaceutical companies didn’t invent CBD. All they did was to take a plant through the FDA’s approval process, change its labeling, and slap a crazy price tag on it.

How are Pharmaceutical Companies Able to Get Away With This?

Now, what about supply and demand? Of course, pharmaceutical companies want to charge high prices for drugs. But shouldn’t basic economics limit them from charging these outrageous markups?

The reality is, economics has been completely pushed out of the picture thanks to regulators and third-party insurance.

By default, regulation favors drugs that comply with the FDA’s approval process. For example, even if a supplement has well-known benefits, the producers of that supplement are not allowed to officially claim these benefits without FDA approval.

That’s why if you look at a non-prescription grade fish oil, it will say something vague like “Helps Support a Healthy Heart”, but cannot explicitly say that it will improve your HDL levels.

Only the companies that have jumped through all the FDA’s hoops are granted the government’s official stamp of approval to make these claims. Given that the pharmaceutical companies continue to go through this charade with one product after the next, it is clear that this stamp of approval is well worth the billion dollar investment.

In other instances, like that of Epidiolex, regulation even eliminates all non-prescription competition from the market. CBD oil and other marijuana by-products are not legal in some US states, which means that for some this FDA approved version may be the only legal way to get access to this remedy.

At the end of it all, you have third-party insurance companies, which help to hide these exorbitant prices from the consumers that use them. Without seeing the actual price tag of a drug, patients typically accept them without question and without making any effort to shop around. This consumer apathy is what pharmaceutical companies are banking on.

Conclusion

It’s a screwed up system, and there are no signs that there will be any significant changes soon. But, that does not mean that there is nothing that you can do. The key to both lowering your health care costs and overall reform is to start taking action and to be informed about your healthcare.

Before purchasing a prescription drug, look into the ingredients. See if you can get the same thing at a dramatically lower price either in generic form, by buying the ingredients separately, or with an over-the-counter version.

Be sure to ask your doctor about your alternatives. If you aren’t sure if you are getting the best advice from them, get a second opinion. When it comes to your health, there’s no excuse for not being informed.

Comments (1)

  1. Autumn rankin says:

    Fantastic article! Very well written and holy smokes I had no idea that drug companies were allowed to do this! Thank you for sharing

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