I help the University of Utah hospital system manage its drug budgets and medication use policies, and in 2015 I got sticker shock. Our annual inpatient pharmacy cost for a single drug skyrocketed from $300,000 to $1.9 million. That’s because the drug maker Valeant suddenly increased the price of isoproterenol from $440 to roughly $2,700 a dose.
Isoproterenol is a heart drug. It helps with heart attacks and shock and works to keep up a patient’s blood pressure. With the sudden price increase, we were forced to remove isoproterenol from our 100 emergency crash carts. Instead, we stocked our pharmacy backup boxes, located on each floor of our hospitals, to have the vital drug on hand if needed. We had to minimize costs without impacting patient care.
This type of arbitrary and unpredictable inflation is not sustainable. And it’s not the way things are supposed to work in the United States. Isoproterenol is a drug that is no longer protected by a patent. Theoretically, any drug company should be able to make a generic version and sell it at a competitive cost. We should have had other options to buy a competitors’ copy for $440 or less. But that’s not happening like it should. The promise of generic medications is getting further from reality each day. As the U.S. Senate considers President Donald Trump’s choice to head the Food and Drug Administration, now is the time refocus efforts on generic drugs.