Price Gouging Spikes Drug Costs Up to 4500%, Purchasing Group Says

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , August 17, 2011

Klobuchar, who spoke at a briefing Tuesday to release the latest report, said she considers the issue to be "a crisis, with unprecedented shortages for a record number of these medications, especially the drugs treating cancer."

She cited the case of a 4-year-old Minnesota boy with leukemia whose family "learned that the drug cytarabine, an essential drug for his treatment, was in short supply and would not be available.

"It threw them into a panic right before the chemotherapy, and the pharmacist and hospital searched everywhere for some cytarabine," she continued. They found it at the last minute, but not without a waste of a huge amount of pharmacists' and hospital employees' time, she said.

According to the Premier report, cytarabine was being sold at more than 4,000% higher than its list price, the second only to labetalol, a drug for cardiology which was sold at 4,500% markup.

Added Blumenthal, who said he has asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office for a report on the practice: "I'm committed to cracking down on this activity ... This kind of egregious and shocking behavior should be a target for Washington. We should say absolutely no to the free-market playing Russian roulette with our healthcare system."

He added that these grey market, high-priced drugs "can either be counterfeit, or improper dosages, or otherwise threatening to patients' health."

Other investigations and activities are underway, including a bill that would require pharmaceutical companies that perceive shortages of certain essential drugs to notify the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in advance.

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