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Reducing Drug Waste

U.S. Capitol Building
December 20, 2017 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Billions of dollars out of our taxpaying pockets go down the drain, thanks to Big Pharma. Unnecessary stress results for millions of Big Pharma drug users. A new bill under consideration in Congress—the Reducing Drug Waste Act of 2017 —can fix this, so I urge you to raise your voice in support.

This not just about wasting our money. It’s also about reducing the terrible stress people experience when using many Big Pharma drugs.

Deliberate eyedrop overdose wastes millions

Liquid medications, like eyedrops and cancer drugs, are one target among many.

Why? Because they’re packaged in ways that can only lead to waste.

If you’ve ever used eyedrops, you know the drill. Even a direct hit of prescribed drops leaves excess drops running down your cheeks or absorbed into your nostrils.

This is not, as most users think, your own fault.

This is a heartless, callous, greedy, deliberate tactic by Big Pharma to get people to use up their medications sooner, so that they need more medication, more often.

How Big Pharma’s scam works for eye drugs

The size of eye drops isn’t regulated. Some are more than 50 microliters per drop, more than double the amount the typical adult eye can hold.

Some are triple that amount. Wasteful runoff is inevitable.

The oversized drops mean some patients run out of medicine before their insurers allow them to refill their prescriptions.

What drives me mad, to the point of urging you to act, is that Big Pharma has known this for decades.

This is not about relatively minor eye discomfort, like dry eyes. Though there, too, Big Pharma offers drastically over-priced OTC relief.

It’s about glaucoma, for example, and going blind or not.

Glaucoma drugs, and other crucial eye medications, are packaged in small bottles, containing the prescribed drops per day, meant to be a month’s supply. They can cost hundreds of dollars every month, with Big Insurance-imposed limits on refill frequency.

When every drop is double or triple what fills the eye, wasting several drops per day is a huge step, in a tiny bottle, toward serious trouble.

This is hardly unknown to manufacturers. Some of the eye drop giants, selling up and down the drug chain from OTC to prescription drugs, have even sought, and found, the obvious solution.

Smaller eyedrops still treat symptoms

You guessed it—smaller drops. Surely, that can be done?

Dr. Peter Bach, now the director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York did exactly that—around 20 years ago.

Kudos—for just a moment—to Big Pharma eye care giant, Alcon, for working with Dr. Bach to develop a microdrop for patients with glaucoma. It was one-half to one-third the size of “normal” drops on the market.

Tests showed that:

  • Microdrops were just as effective in controlling symptoms as the wasteful, oversized drops—whether it was an OTC or a prescribed drug
  • They also reduced some of the uncomfortable side effects
  • All the participants preferred the microdrop to the normal drop

Big Pharma’s response?

They still make supersize drops.

Big Pharma’s defense?

Only one of several eye drop makers contacted recently even replied to defend the practice, saying the too big drops “allow a margin of safety to help patients administer the drops.”

Cancer drugs—more eye-popping waste

The same bad drama plays out when it comes to cancer drugs.

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The drug company Genentech, for example, used to package its cancer drug Herceptin in shareable vials, that is, large enough to hold several individual doses, so more than one patient could be given his or her needed dose.

They recently switched to single-dose vials, all with the same amount of medication—very often more than the prescribed dosage per individual patient.

But one size does not fit all. Once a patient gets his or her needed dose, the rest of the expensive drug in the vial is thrown out.

The result in dollars?

A milligram of cancer drug Herceptin costs about $9.00. A cancer patient’s monthly infusion can run up to more than $3,000. One California cancer center estimated the change would on average waste 110 milligrams—$1,000 per infusion—with the single-use vials.

Research led by Dr. Bach, still fighting the good fight, found that single-use vials wasted nearly $3 billion annually in cost increases and medicine that had to be thrown away.

But Big Pharma has already sold the drug, and wants to be paid for all of it, in full. Never mind that so much of it went unused, down the drain.

That was according to plan.

Who pays for the wasted medications? Patients, to whatever degree they’re insured, if at all, and taxpayers—that’s me and you—for far too much more.

Reducing Drug Waste Could Save Billions

Totaling up results from various studies, this gross and deliberate waste costs the U.S. health care system $765 billion a year.

That’s about 25 percent of overall U.S. government spending—more than the entire budget of our Department of Defense.

Unbelievable, but true.

There should be a law against wasteful medication packaging

With your help, what should be, can be, if you step up to the plate with me.

The unstoppable Dr. Bach says of the Reducing Drug Waste Act of 2017: “This could be legislation that saves Medicare and sick patients a lot of money.”

His research led to the proposal of two potential solutions to the billion-dollar problem:

  • Require Big Pharma to produce vials in more sizes, so drugs can be delivered more cost-efficiently
  • Require Big Pharma to give rebates on unused medicine

Senator Dick Durbin, R-Ill, one of the lawmakers sponsoring the bill, doesn’t pull punches when he says “This is a colossal and completely preventable waste of taxpayer dollars, and it means American patients and hard-working families are paying for medication that gets tossed in the trash.”

As the honorable gentleman accurately describes the size and nature of the problem, I’ll add a few words about the moral dimension of Big Pharma’s role in institutionalizing and perpetuating this terrible waste.

Reprehensibly, shamefully, heartlessly cruel.  Profit over patient.

How to support the Reducing Drug Waste Act of 2017

There will surely be Big Pushback.

Let’s do something about it. We must, and we can.

Contact your representatives in Congress—House and Senate both, urging them to make this bill the law—or else. Elected officials understand a very simple equation—a No vote for the bill = a No vote for you.

Here’s how to make your voice heard:

If you’ve read this far, I have a feeling you’ll do the right thing. Thank you in advance.

I don’t want to leave you thinking all Big Pharma drugs are bad. Sometimes, they’re the right solution for your medical problem. But if you want to know more about safe, natural, affordable alternatives to those drugs for your eyes or for cancer, and see how natural remedies can make those drugs more effective and less unpleasant, please read my newsletters about protecting your vision and natural cancer prevention.

Take good care.

References

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