Prescription needed to remedy generic drug pricing shenanigans

Prescription-drug discount programs can vary from one Target store to another, Deede said.

More than 60% of Americans — and 90% of seniors — take a prescription drug in any given year, according to a recent report from the National Center for Policy Analysis. Roughly $300 billion is spent annually on medication, including over-the-counter drugs.

With stats like that, you'd think transparency would be a key component of the drug market. But the Food and Drug Administration appears content to allow the industry to operate largely in the shadows. As with other facets of our healthcare system, consumers are simply unable to find out how much prescription drugs actually cost.

The first thing the FDA should do is make the pharmaceutical industry do away with its bogus average wholesale prices and instead list the true prices of drugs.

Should there also be greater regulation of generic drug prices? People will undoubtedly disagree on this score.

All I know is that if the price of something can go from $6 to $133 to $8 in the span of a few weeks, something's hinky with that business.

One other thing

Speaking of drug prices, one of the drug makers I cited in my earlier column, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, protested after the column ran that it wasn't fair to compare the pricing of its generic doxycycline with that of a generic doxycycline manufactured by rival Watson Pharmaceuticals.

My column quoted Nina Devlin, a Mylan spokeswoman, as saying her company's product was different from Watson's, but it didn't spell out the nature of the difference. It's this: Mylan said its doxycycline works on a delayed-release basis, while Watson's does not.

"The Mylan and Watson generic doxycycline products are not the same," Devlin said after the column ran. "They are generic versions of different brand products and are not equivalent to each other.

"The formulations and FDA-approved prescribing information for these drugs are different, and so are their prices," she said. "Comparison of the prices in the context of this story is misleading."

Mylan is correct in observing that, in the eyes of the FDA, the two drugs have different formulations and would require different prescriptions.

Experts, however, said it's reasonable to compare the pricing of different types of generic doxycycline.

As Bellflower pharmacist Ryan Kim explained to me, both the normal and delayed-release versions have the same active ingredient — doxycycline. Inert ingredients, such as those that could make a drug longer-lasting, can vary.

Kim likened this to the same driver taking a spin in two different vehicles.

"Fast-acting doxy means the vehicle is a Porsche," he said. "Extended release might mean a slow-rolling armored tank."

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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