Health for sale: prices for HIV medication increase by 5,000%

Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, said “we need to turn a profit on this drug” – and raised the price of Daraprim by over 5,000%. A drug that costs approximately $1.00 to make and sold for $13.50, now costs $750.00 per dosage. Shkreli and Turing Pharmaceuticals will now be bringing in significant profits – a whopping $749.00 for every pill sold.

Daraprim is the standard medication used to treat toxoplasmosis, a food borne illness that affects those with weakened immune systems, found particularly in patients with HIV and AIDS.
Although not the only drug for the treatment of toxoplasmosis, daraprim is by far the most effective and has been part of standard toxoplasmosis treatments for over 60 years. The effects and implications of a 5,000-fold increase in its cost are significant.

Shkeli argues that the exorbitant price hike is a “great business decision that also benefits all of our stakeholders,” and that the extra revenue will be used towards increased marketing and research on the drug. In addition, he compares the cost of daraprim to the cost of cancer treatments and other expensive drugs to justify the raise.

Shkeli’s validations for such a significant raise in prices fall considerably short. Stakeholders will benefit because they will make much, much more money – about 55 times more money. Those that require the drug, however, as a treatment to a potentially life-threatening illness do not share in these benefits whatsoever.

Numerous doctors and researchers claim that extensive research on the drug is unnecessary, as it has been in use since 1952 and is highly effective. Lastly, justifying the price hike based on a comparison to other expensive treatments does not make for a strong argument. Such a price hike contributes to increasing expenses of healthcare and to the commodification of a basic service.

Additionally, such actions fall in line with the “predatory” healthcare industry, which is also founded on the exploitation of disease as a source of profit.
Numerous healthcare associations have rallied against the sharp price increase. An open letter from the HIV Medicine Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America states: “This cost is unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population in need of this medication and unsustainable for the health care system.”

The high cost of medication is particularly significant for marginalized populations affected by HIV and AIDS in Canada and around the world. Aboriginal Canadians are almost three times more likely to be infected with HIV than any other Canadian. They accounted for a total of 34.4% of the total HIV cases in Canada in 2012.

Coincidentally, aboriginal populations are also amongst the most marginalized in the country, meaning that paying $750.00 for a single dosage may be a significant struggle.
The severe price increase of deraprim and its effects are not limited to aboriginal populations, but are both a national and global concern. A person is infected with HIV in Canada every three hours.

That is another $749.00 gain to Turing Pharmaceuticals, and another $749.00 to tax payers. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert, reminds us that the effects of the price hike are not limited to the small patient population and people with HIV, but that “at the end of the day, whether we like it or not, we’re paying for it with our taxes and our policies are going up.

The daraprim price hike is likely to have significant effects to the healthcare system around the world. It serves as a bracing reminder that healthcare and vitally necessary drugs are an essential source of profits for the industry. In other words, health and wellness are up for sale, and for a pretty hefty sum.