Drug price hikes puzzle Sioux City pharmacists, physicians

2013-10-18T11:45:00Z 2014-03-20T19:27:40Z Drug price hikes puzzle Sioux City pharmacists, physiciansDOLLY A. BUTZ dbutz@siouxcityjournal.com Sioux City Journal
October 18, 2013 11:45 am  • 

SIOUX CITY | A recent spike in the cost of prescription drugs, including generics,  perplexes Bill Drilling.

Drilling, who co-owns Drilling Pharmacy at 4010 Morningside Ave., has seen medications to treat psychiatric conditions, seizures, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fungal infections and more, increase in price in excess of 400 percent over the past 12 to 18 months with no explanation.

"I couldn't even name them all off. It seems like they come in waves," he said of the price increases. "There's no rationale behind it that I know of."

As a neighborhood pharmacist, Drilling said price spikes create a hardship for his business, as well as his customers. Even a rumor of a price increase, he said, leads to an immediate shortage of drugs as pharmacies try to buy up as much as they can.

Levothyroxine, which controls hypothyroidism - a condition that inhibits the production of thyroid hormone - is the latest drug to experience a price hike.

Rita Hass, a pharmacy technician for Hy-Vee Drugstore at 2627 Pierce St., said a 30-day supply of generic levothyroxine now sells for around $12. Before, she said it was $4.

"Sometimes drugs change in price, but not a heck of a lot," she said.

According to the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, Forest Pharmaceuticals discontinued levothyroxine tablets under the brand name Levothroid in July.

Another brand of levothyroxine, known as Levoxyl, was taken off the market until 2014. Maker King Pharmaceuticals, a subsidy of Pfizer, voluntarily recalled the brand name drug after pharmacists and patients complained of an odor emanating from its bottles.

That leaves only brand names Synthroid and Tirosint and generic levothyroxine for purchase.

About 4.6 percent of the U.S. population ages 12 and older has hypothyroidism, according to the National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service.

Since Levoxyl and Levothroid were taken off the market, Hass said Hy-Vee hasn't experienced any shortages of medications used to treat hypothyroidism, but she said consumers are noticing the price increases.

According to rxpricequote.com, which compares drug prices by zip code, a 30-day 100 microgram (mcg) supply of generic levothyroxine costs between $7.85 and $11.59 per bottle at pharmacies in Sioux City. Brand name Synthroid runs between $29.77 and $31.50 per bottle for the same dosage, while Tirosint averages around $80.

Steven Joyce, a physician with Mercy Medical Center Internal Medicine & Pediatrics, couldn't offer an explanation for the price increases either. He noted that levothyroxine has been available for decades.

Most patients, he said, won't notice that they are paying $8 more for a bottle of the drug. But for others, he said the price increase is a big deal.

Eventually, patients who stop taking levothyroxine will begin to feel fatigued. The consequences of quitting blood pressure medications, however, Joyce said, could be more severe, as the patient is at higher risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke or kidney damage.

"We can't predict that. Not at a certain level like the oil pressure gauge in your car," he said. "It could have a significant impact within days."

Copyright 2015 Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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