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Taking Medicines for Granted

My friend, the talented Cory Doctorow, writes today about switching to a new, much cheaper drug to treat his acid reflux condition. By way of introduction, he writes:

I take a pill every day, one of a class of drugs called Protease Pump Inhibitors (PPI), for acid reflux (really wicked-bad heartburn). There are a lot of different ones -- Nexium, Prilosec, Aciphex, and so on -- but they all do the same thing: keep me from being in intense pain for more than half my waking hours. They're also all horrendously overpriced -- $3-5 a pill. I have health insurance, but my monthly co-pay is $25/month, and every single time I refill my prescription my asshole insurance company gives me some kind of run-around: I have to call them, call my doctor, whatever.
I'm going to call Cory on this. PPIs "keep [him] from being in intense pain for more than half [his] waking hours," but at the same time are "all horrendously overpriced -- $3-5 a pill." What am I missing here? If I had a condition that caused me to be in intense pain for more than nine hours a day, $3-5 per day would seem eminently reasonable to relieve the pain.

Put another way, if I had Cory's condition, PPIs didn't exist, and a pharmaceutical company said to me, "We think we can develop a drug to relieve your pain, but it will cost you $3-5 per day," I'd sign up in a heartbeat. But human nature being what it is, we take for granted that which we already possess, and so once I had the medicine, I'd probably grumble about the price, just as Cory is doing.

(By the way, I believe Cory meant to say proton pump inhibitors, which are used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease. Protease inhibitors are used to treat HIV.)

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Comments

This is a dangerous problem. My father-in-law had acid reflux which ultimately lead to Barrett's Esophogus and then esophogeal cancer, which he died of. My son also suffers from acid reflux, but since he has been on medication (instead of tring to treat it with Tums, which just doesn't work for this kind of thing), he has had no problems. It appears that surgery to correct the condition doesn't help much long term.

David, your story reinforces for me the need for us to allow the pharmaceutical industry to continue to innovate.

As I wrote to Cory in an e-mail exchange on this topic, "Of all the geese in the world laying golden eggs, is this the one we want to f--k with?"

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