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No Longer a Cheap Alternative: Generic Drug Prices Soaring in the United States

Monday, 17 November 2014

The high cost of prescription drugs is a growing concern for many Americans who are finding it increasingly difficult to afford the medications they need. Millions of patients are unable to fill their prescriptions, and with Medicare prohibited by federal law to reduce medication prices, pharmaceutical companies are free to charge exorbitant rates for profit. In an effort to reduce prescription costs, many have turned to generics as alternatives to brand name medications. Generic drugs contain the same active ingredients as their brand name counterparts, but their biggest appeal is that they are often much lower priced. However, this may no longer be the case for certain medicines.

A recent article published at WebMD discusses the worrisome trend of rising generic drug costs. Medicines that were previously purchased at only pennies per dose have undergone "radical increases in price" in the past few years. Some examples include: the antibiotic doxycycline, which has risen from 6.3 cents to $3.36 per pill; the antidepressant clomipramine, which has increased from 22 cents to $8.32 per pill; and the heart medication digoxin, which went from 11 cents to $1.10 per pill.

Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a director of the Program on Regulation, Therapeutics and Law at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, states that market forces are behind these dramatically increased prices. A free market should mean that more competitors result in lower prices, but with only a few companies making generic drugs, there may not be enough competition to reduce costs. In recent times, drug manufacturers have stopped production or merged with other companies, resulting in "a near or actual monopoly."

The drastic increases have prompted the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Department of Justice to begin investigations into the pricing of generic drugs. They have issued subpoenas and sent letters to pharmaceutical companies in an attempt to find information regarding possible collusion between competitors.

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