Pharmaceuticals

America’s Real Drug Problem

In August, a company called Turing Pharmaceuticals bought the marketing rights for a life-saving off-patent drug and promptly hiked its price by some 5,000%. Turing's move, and the subsequent outcry, highlights one of the US health-care system's great faults: profits can be – and often are – placed ahead of people.

ANN ARBOR – No doctor can forget his or her first patient with toxoplasmosis, a harrowing parasitic infection found in people with compromised immune systems, such as patients with advanced HIV/AIDS. After infecting one’s organs and brain, it causes an altered mental state, fever, shaking chills, and seizures. Left untreated, it can lead to death in as little as one week.

A life-saving treatment – marketed in the United States under the name Daraprim (pyrimethamine) – has been available for more than 60 years. But recent developments have threatened to make it unaffordable. In August, a company called Turing Pharmaceuticals bought the marketing rights for the drug and promptly hiked the price of a pill from $13.50 to $750. In addition to raising worries about the drug’s availability, the move exposes one of the great flaws of the US health-care system: profits can be – and often are – placed ahead of people.

Turing’s CEO, Martin Shkreli, was quickly vilified in the media, including in a Facebook post by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. His response was uncompromising. In a Twitter exchange, he called a journalist “a moron,” and described the price hike as “a great business decision that also benefits all of our stakeholders.”

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