The last several years have seen a dramatic increase in prescription drug costs. According to an LA Times article in 2016, the United States Department of Health and Human Services reports prescription drugs account for 10% of all personal healthcare expenditures. And a 2017 National Health Interview Survey reported on strategies being used by adults aged 18-64 to reduce their prescription drug costs. The survey found that among uninsured adults, 33.6% of these adults did not take their medication as prescribed, 39.5% asked for a lower-cost medication and 13.9% used alternative therapies instead.
As pharmacists, we know high drug costs directly affects patient adherence. Hospitals and other health centers are also facing the consequences of spikes in pricing for critical drugs. In 2011, for example, a box of 25 doses of vasopressin was less than $200. By 2018, the same box cost more than $4,000. Other drugs, such as daraprim and EpiPen have seen the same sort of increase.
To make matters worse, insurers and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) have often prohibited pharmacists from telling their patients about lower cost medications that may need to be paid out-of-pocket rather than through an insurance plan. In the past, pharmacists often faced significant penalties for violating these so-called ‘gag-clauses.’
In late 2018, President Trump signed the bipartisan Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act into law. This law prohibits insurers and PBMs from issuing ‘gag-clauses’ and allows pharmacists to advise their patients on lower cost options.
Beyond substituting generics for branded drugs or choosing a cheaper variant, there is another effective way to control costs: Compounding. Historically, pharmacies did this on a regular basis, but the practice slowly died out as pharmaceutical companies began mass-producing drugs. Now, as drug costs rise and companies discontinue production of certain medications, pharmacists are filling the gap by compounding once again.
Lower costs for patients
Compounding pharmacies can typically charge much less for the medications they create in-house because they are creating specific doses for their patients. Patients have access to the specific prescriptions they need and keep within their budgets more easily.
Access to discontinued medication
Drug manufacturers may stop mass-producing a drug because it isn’t profitable on a large scale. Through compounding, a pharmacy can create small doses of the necessary drug as needed.
Customized, hypo-allergenic medications
For patients with drug allergies, such as those who need a soybean-free capsule or a gluten-free tablet, compounding creates drugs that don’t trigger allergies or intolerance issues.
Tastier medications for children
Children frequently refuse bad tasting medicine, as every parent knows. But through compounding, the medication can be flavored for a better taste to help ensure it’s taken as prescribed.
New forms of existing medications
For patients who tend to aspirate liquids or have swallowing issues, a compounding pharmacy can alter the structure of a medication so the medication is put into a liquid suspension or liquids can be taken in pill or capsule form. The pharmacy can also make large pills smaller so they’re easier to swallow by younger children or adults with difficulty swallowing.
The costs and pricing associated with today’s modern medications are influenced by and the result of a host of factors outside the control of your trusted pharmacy. Nevertheless, community pharmacists remain strong advocates for their patients. At Blue Ridge Pharmacy, we work hard to help mitigate rising drug costs by helping our customers access the lowest pricing available. If you’d like to know more about compounding, or if you’d like to discuss your special needs, please contact us. We’d like to partner with you to find the best solution possible.