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Prescriptions are a public necessity, not just a profit motive

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Earlier this week, Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of Daraprim — a critically important drug in the battle against infectious diseases — from $13.50 per pill to an unimaginable $750 per pill, according to the New York Times.

According to the Times, shocking though it may be, this type of price increase is nothing new. The article points out that the most commonly heard examples of drug price gouging is in reference to drugs for cancer, hepatitis C, and high cholesterol, among others. However, this practice has expanded into a business strategy in which older drugs considered mainstays of treatment are bought by new companies and treated as “specialty drugs.”

This type of rapid price change cannot happen. It would be one thing for prescription drug prices to stay consistent with inflation, but massive price increases such as Turing’s on Daraprim are unjustifiable and harmful. Perhaps these practices are just yet another sign of a bloated and over-powering health-care system.

Turing’s CEO, Martin Shkreli, who since the announcement has been dubbed with less-than-flattering nicknames across various social media, claims that the price increase is aimed at investing more in a new treatment with fewer side effects. And in all fairness, given the public backlash at the move, Turing has since backed off on the price hike — despite Shkreli’s insistence that he is not doing anything other pharmaceuticals wouldn’t have (or haven’t already) done.

But backing off or not, the damage may have been done in the eyes of the public. As the public sees it, pharmaceutical companies are too powerful and hold too much control over the treatment (or evidently lack there) of patients.

Another New York Times article explained that prescription drug costs have become an important campaign issue as the cost — not just of individual drugs but of overall drug use — has gone up. According to the article, average per capita prescription drug spending went up more than $100 last year; the United States has the highest per capita cost of the 27 countries included in the article, spending $1,034 in 2013 and eclipsing Canada at No. 2 by nearly $300.

But not only have pharmaceutical companies increased prices drastically, they’ve begun a relatively new trend of direct-to-consumer advertising. Although they’ve been around for years, direct-to-consumer advertisements for prescription drugs have flooded television sets around the country in the last decade and sooner. After all, it used to be that a doctor would prescribe to you the medicine he or she found appropriate for your given condition.

Now, one of the most popular lines on television is “Ask your doctor about … [insert drug for any type of ailment known to man].” Decades ago, a patient may not have been as upset with the price increase because they weren’t educated by cartoon bees, women in bath tubs, or sleepy spokesmen.

It’s good to see the people of the United States responding promptly and loudly to unjust raises in prices of important drugs. Like Daraprim which, by the way, is used to treat “a parasite infection that can cause serious or even life-threatening problems for babies born to women who become infected during pregnancy and also for people with compromised immune systems, like AIDS patients and certain cancer patients,” according to the Times.

In this country, health care is a problem. It seems odd, certainly, that in the wealthiest country in the world, health care would be an issue. The quality of treatment is there but a brand of greedy capitalism is getting in the way of proper treatment.

It may be un-capitalistic to regulate the price of a drug produced by a private company; however, as is the case with Daraprim, some drugs are necessities not suited for competitive environments. When a drug company holds thousands of lives in its hands, it must be more responsible than this.

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