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Why are Herpes Drugs So Expensive?

September 4, 2020

high drug prices

Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STD) in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in six people between the ages of 14 and 49 have genital herpes. Herpes is a viral infection that can be treated with medication and prescription drugs, but the virus stays dormant in the body's nerve cells and can flare up from time to time throughout a person's lifetime.

Herpes can also be spread to others even when the carrier isn't exhibiting any symptoms. Despite how common it is, there is still a great deal of stigma attached to the herpes virus, which belongs to the same family of viruses that cause the chicken pox.

As pharmaceutical companies began to develop prescription drugs and topical treatments for the herpes simplex virus, "public health" and "awareness" marketing campaigns were launched in the late 1970s/early 1980s which helped to stigmatize the virus — and create a market to overcharge consumers for expensive herpes drugs in the United States.

As with so many of the other prescription drugs that Americans rely on for their health and wellbeing, pharmaceutical companies often pour millions of dollars into marketing, "advocacy," and advertising campaigns designed to convince Americans that they should be paying so much more than their Canadian neighbors for the same medications.

How Much Do Herpes Drugs Cost in the United States?

Whether it's medication to treat a herpes flare up, statins to manage high cholesterol and the risk of cardiac disease, or asthma inhalers, if there's one guarantee in the healthcare system in the United States, it's that American consumers will be expected to pay much more than Canadians and just about everyone else in the world for the same medications.

Even with health insurance and prescription drug coverage, the inflated price of prescription drugs is baked into the entire system, which ends up driving up costs for everyone.

Here's an example of the average retail price for a few of the most common brand name prescription drugs for herpes:

Valtrex Cost

The cash retail price in the U.S. for an oral tablet of 1g of Valtrex is approximately $23/pill, and about $13.50 for a 500mg pill. That means that a 30-pill prescription of 1g of Valtrex retails for just over $700, and a 90 pill prescription costs about $2,090. A 30-pill supply of 500mg of Valtrex will set a patient paying in cash back about $400, and a prescription for 90 pills of 500mg will cost about $1,200.

How much does the same prescription cost at an international pharmacy? Not surprisingly (although no less shocking), Americans pay almost three times as much for herpes medications like Valtrex.

In Canada, a prescription for 42 oral tablets of 500mg of Valtrex costs $213.39, and 84 tablets cost $426.29. A prescription for 1000mg of Valtrex costs $219.39 for a 21-pill prescription in a Canadian pharmacy, and $393.49 for a 42-pill prescription.

Valtrex isn't a cure for herpes, but it's an effective treatment to manage symptoms and prevent the virus from replicating, and works for both genital and oral herpes outbreaks.

Denavir Cost

If the cost of Valtrex in the United States compared to Canada seems excessive, the cost of Denavir, a topical ointment, will seem especially outrageous. Herpes medications are manufactured as oral tablets like Valtrex, and as topical creams and ointments.

Though similar in terms of dosage and active ingredients, some people prefer one or the other since ointments tend to be oilier and messier to apply, whereas creams tend to blend into the skin once applied, but may be irritating depending on the location and severity of the outbreak.

Even by luxury item standards, everyone but the wealthiest Americans would probably balk at the thought of paying thousands or even hundreds of dollars for a few ounces of a topical cream or ointment. When it comes to an oral herpes outbreak, which can be especially inconvenient and embarrassing, the average person would probably be willing to pay just about anything to make it go away as quickly as possible.

In the case of Denavir, the average retail price for a single tube ranges between $973-$1,100 in the U.S. depending on the pharmacy where the prescription is filled (one of the many arbitrary variables that affects how much American consumers end up paying for their medications). Americans who source their prescriptions through a Canadian pharmacy website can expect to pay significantly less.

At, Denavir ranges in price from $35.69-$195.09, depending on the dosage. That's a massive difference.

Veregen Ointment Cost

When it comes to expensive herpes drugs, Veregen leads the pack. The average retail price is over $1,600 for a single tube of ointment in the United States. In Canada, the price for a tube of Veregen ointment ranges from $100-$200.

The drastic price discrepancies between what herpes drugs cost in the U.S. as opposed to Canada would be bad enough, but the high price tag in American pharmacies is even more egregious when you consider that herpes drugs don't cure or eliminate the virus, they just help to manage outbreaks, which can flare up at any time over the course of a person's life once they contract the herpes virus.

Factors that Affect Herpes Prescription Drug Prices

The sad irony for many Americans is that even with health insurance and some form of prescription drug coverage, the out of pocket costs of prescription medications is often more expensive than what the drugs cost in Canadian or other international pharmacies.

It's not unusual for Americans to pay anywhere from $50-$100 for a prescription depending on the medication, in addition to their insurance. In the case of herpes drugs, that's often more than what a Canadian or international pharmacy charges for the entire prescription.

According to the pharmaceutical companies themselves, the cost of prescription drugs like Valtrex, Veregen, Denavir and others depends on a number of different factors and variables such as the cost of developing and manufacturing the drugs, marketing and advertising budgets (there's a fair bit of ongoing controversy and debate as to how much pharmaceutical companies actually spend on advertising and marketing), and even packaging.

But none of those factors convincingly explain how a prescription drug that costs about $35 in Canada or elsewhere can cost thousands of dollars in the United States. While the healthcare system and prescription drug market are incredibly complex, the main driving force behind how expensive herpes and all prescription drugs have become is actually remarkably simple: they can just get away with charging Americans more.

The American healthcare system, prescription drug market, and patent system offers pharmaceutical companies an opportunity that they don't enjoy anywhere else in the world, even in other countries with similar market-driven economies: a complete lack of regulation on pricing, and the freedom to literally charge whatever they see fit, regardless of the circumstances and impact on public health and safety.

Pharmaceutical Company Monopolies Make Prescription Drugs More Expensive for Americans

The love of a free market might be as American as apple pie, but the reality is actually quite different. The prescription drug market, like many others, is increasingly controlled and restricted by an exceedingly small, powerful, and influential handful of large pharmaceutical and corporate pharmacy chains (commonly referred to as Big Pharma).

Despite the rhetoric about a free market (and antitrust laws in the United States originally designed to prevent the type of price gouging and stifling of innovation and competition that we see today), pharmaceutical companies and their powerful lobbying groups spend enormous sums of time and money to keep the market as closed as possible in order to protect their soaring profit margins.

Despite the stigma that surrounds the herpes virus, the majority of the population has actually been exposed to it at some point. According to Johns Hopkins and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), anywhere from 50%-90% of American adults are exposed to oral herpes by age 50, which makes cold sore outbreaks (also known as fever blisters) incredibly common. So why would a herpes drug like Veregen ointment have a retail price of $1,600 in the United States when it only costs about $100 elsewhere?

Given that so many people will likely have to deal with a herpes outbreak at least once in their lifetime, wouldn't it make sense for herpes drugs to be more affordable? That all depends on your perspective.

If an expensive brand name prescription drug manufactured by a single company is the only option available, American consumers have no room to negotiate. Insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers in the United States negotiate prices with the pharmaceutical companies, but consumers are left out of that process and are at the mercy of their insurance companies and prescription drug coverage plans.

Why Herpes Drugs are Cheaper in Canada (and Elsewhere)

As we've seen, Americans can save hundreds — or even thousands of dollars — by buying herpes drugs from outside of the United States. Even with insurance, Americans can save a considerable amount of money every time they fill a prescription by ordering it online from a Canadian or credentialed international website from the comfort of their own home.

So, what's Canada's secret? Despite some myths and misconceptions about Canadian pharmacies, the Canadian government has very strong quality control and safety guidelines in place to ensure that Canadian citizens are getting the medications and prescription drugs they need at prices that are fair and affordable for all.

Simply put, pharmaceutical companies don't inflate the prices of prescription drugs in Canada or rip off Canadian citizens because they simply can't get away with it. In the United States, the government is powerless to regulate drug costs — which means Americans, unfortunately, have to pay whatever the pharmaceutical companies want them to pay.

In Canada — and in many other countries — the opposite is true. The Canadian government has the power to negotiate drug prices directly with the pharmaceutical companies, and to enforce limits on how much they can charge. For Canadians and citizens of other developed countries, more affordable prescription drugs are just common sense. And while pharmaceutical companies may be greedy, they're not stupid: they're not about to give up access to the Canadian market for their drugs, so they agree to the Canadian government's rules because they have little choice.

The American government and citizens have the same power (and some would argue moral obligation) to prioritize public health over pharmaceutical industry profits, but the pharmaceutical industry's lobbying has made it very difficult to implement reforms or enact any real change.

In the meantime, more and more Americans are realizing that they don't have to do without or spend so much of their hard earned money on prescription drugs: they can use an international or Canadian website to gain access to cheaper medications shipped directly to the door.

Are you paying too much or struggling to afford your prescription medications? We can help. For more information about how to order medication from a certified online Canadian pharmacy and international drugs website, contact us today to speak with a member of our customer service team. Call our toll-free number 1-866-539-5330 to speak to a representative, or you can also send us an email.

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