Internet users reacted strongly today when they were made aware of a common business technique among pharmaceutical companies — often chided as price gouging — in which they drastically raise the cost of a specialty drug used fight severe infections or diseases, in order to make a profit.
The company in question that stirred people’s emotions is New York-based Turing Pharmaceuticals, which purchased a drug called Daraprim last August, and raised its price from $13.50 a tablet to $750 overnight — a 5,000 percent increase.
The drug is the standard form of treatment against toxoplosmosis, a life-threatening parasite infection that can especially harm people with compromised immune systems, like those with HIV, cancer, or even pregnant women.
Now, it’s so incredibly easy to point blame at this company — and especially its CEO, Martin Shkreli, who has a face and certain aura about him that just asks to be hated — but the truth of the matter is that this is a problem that has been going on for a long time.
Specialty drugs that treat serious conditions can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year. Meaning even those with good insurance will still have to dig deep into their wallets to get the medicine they need.
My biggest question is why this is even allowed to happen. It’s the pure essence of price gouging — a company, owning a drug that is the only one that can fight a specific disease, and facing no competition, prices it however they please, knowing that people have no choice but to buy it.
Companies justify their tactics by saying they give away their drugs at a discounted cost to the neediest of people, and that they plan to use their profits to invest in increasing education and research for the disease their drug fights, and even try to create a better antidote.
To his credit, Shkreli went on CNBC on Monday to explain his motives for raising the price of Daraprim.
People need a face to physically hate when they hear about a problem, or else it doesn’t resonate. Shkreli is that man for today. The same thing happened this summer when a Minneapolis dentist killed a well-known lion in Zimbabwe. The problem was big-game hunting, not the dentist, whose name no one even remembers anymore. (It’s Walter Palmer, who also has a very punchable face.)
The bottom line is sick people are being financially burdened because these companies are given free rein to run wild, facing little regulations when determining pricing for their drugs. It’s hard to blame people like Shkreli for taking advantage of a flawed system.
Shkreli reportedly backed down by the way, telling NBC News Tuesday evening that the public outrage will make his company reassess its price hike.
Nothing interests people more than a classic tale of good versus evil. In this case, it’s corporate greed against the weak and the sickly. It’s the biggest David versus Goliath story since Harry Potter defeated Voldemort in the Battle of Hogwarts.
And now it’s time politicians to step up, be useful for once, and Dumbledore the shit out of this problem.