Pharmacy students fight pharmaceutical price hikes and gouging

A group of P1 pharmacy students have recently established a petition to fight against Pharmaceutical price gouging.

Drug companies have begun hiking their prices for medication high above the costs of developing and manufacturing. In the last 10 years, the Epi-pen, which is used to deliver epinephrine during severe allergic reactions, has had over a 500 percent price increase. Some speciality drugs now cost more than $30,000 per year according to The Washington Post.

High pharmaceutical costs are evident when comparing the price of drugs in the US to overseas. In April 2017, The New York Times reported that the antiparasitic drug, Daraprim, which costs $750 per pill in the US is only $2 overseas. The cancer drug Cosmegen is $20-30 in other countries whereas in the US it is priced at $1400.

With a lack of other options or alternatives, patients in the US must pay the high fees.

In September 2017, The Washington Post reported that Maryland was the first state to take action against the rising drug prices, allowing attorney generals to argue when the cost of a generic drug is exponentially higher than the manufacturing costs. However, many argued at the time that they should have targeted the brand name drugs that are experiencing the most severe hikes.

As part of their Foundations of Pharmacy Practice class, six P1 Wilkes students, Frank Hutterer, Courtney McCowan, Stephanie Rarig, Anthony Stambone, Stephen Trbuza and Cole Walters, have begun petitioning for federal legislation that will outlaw identifiable price gouging in the pharmaceutical industry.

“It was kind of sparked from one our foundations classes for pharmacy,” Walters said. “We have to choose a project to take on that is kind of patient orientated, whether that be education or helping patients.

“And what we did was start a petition against pharmaceutical price gouging, which is basically where drug manufacturing companies will set their list price, which is the price a lot of patients unfortunately have to pay, above the price to manufacture the drug. This ultimately hurts the patients a lot in the long run.”

Stambone added, “We decided it would be the most relevant topic, and especially for our career as it is something that affects us.”

Trbuza also said: “[pharmaceutical gouging] definitely affects a lot of people so I felt like it was very relatable, no matter what we did everyone would be like ‘oh yeah we’re affected by that’ or ‘oh yeah we’ve seen that happen,’ so a lot of people would be interested to hear what we have to say.”

Rarig further added: “In the media there has been a lot of coverage recently, so it was something we had all heard of and connected with and thought it would be interesting to do and hopefully benefit other patients. [Gouging] isw not justified by the rate of inflation because it’s so exponentially beyond the inflation rate and it’s so obviously just to increase the profit of the company without any remorse for the customers.”

The Dean of the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy, Dr. Stolte, said that he was proud of his students for creating the online petition.

“All pharmacists and student pharmacists should engage in professional advocacy, especially around important topics.  This is an important topic,” he said.

“It’s essential to note that price gouging is not about new medications being expensive and is a separate issue from the overall high cost of prescription medications.  Health systems expect new medications to be higher priced and are able to plan and budget accordingly. In price gouging situations, older drugs that have, in many cases, been far less expensive, are re-priced like they are brand new drugs.  It’s impossible for the systems and patients to plan for these situations.  This can become a significant driver in overall healthcare costs and may prevent patient access to much-needed therapy.”

As of Feb. 1, the online petition received more than 300 signatures.

Regarding the amount of people interested, Stambone said it is going well.

“It’s been a lot better than we thought it would actually be. People have been responding to it a lot more than expected,” he said.

The group also created a written petition, which they took with them when they visited a local pharmacy, Pierce Drugs in Kingston. Walters explained that the written petition used the same wording, but would be more useful for older patients to whom “ going online is not so user friendly.”

During these visits the group also printed out brochures that gave advice to patients on how to avoid price gouging on their medications. The group suggests joining Patient Assistance Programs, State Pharmaceutical Programs, or asking a doctor for cheaper alternatives.

The leaflet also calls for people to contact their local members of Congress and sign local petitions to stop price gouging.