Last week, Americans awoke to news that Turing Pharmaceuticals, a recently founded medical company, had purchased the rights to the drug Daraprim and would be raising prices from $13.50 a tablet to $750 a tablet. Daraprim is used to combat a parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis, which causes minor discomfort in those with regularly functioning immune systems but causes seizures and severe discoordination in those with weakened immune systems, like those with HIV/AIDS.
The public promptly put Turing Pharmaceuticals on full blast, lambasting the company for the outrageous 5000% price hike. Martin Shkreli, Turing’s CEO, scuttled out of his office to participate in a number of interviews in which he meekly attempted to defend the increase, claiming that he needed to appease stockholders and recoup the $55 million used to purchase the rights to Daraprim in the first place. In the face of incredible public outrage, however, Shkreli has since backed off on the plan.
Where do I begin? Well, for starters, Shkreli’s behavior was pretty atrocious. After the news of Daraprim’s price spike went viral, a fraction of the flak was sent to Shkreli over Twitter; in response, he handled it like a five-year-old having a bad birthday, insulting his detractors and claiming that those who disagreed with his business decisions were “brainwashed,” amongst other non-family friendly things. He even went on to say that any potential deaths that happen as a result of ill people being unable to afford Daraprim at its new price “ain’t [his] fault,” because some people love to test the limits of how much you can hate him
Secondly, Shkreli’s reasons for the price spike didn’t make any sense. Beyond the stockholder bit, he claimed that the money would be going towards research to improve Daraprim, thus, somehow, benefiting the same people he was also ruthlessly gouging. This makes a slight amount of sense until you do a simple Google search and learn that Daraprim has been used for over 50 years with remarkably few issues, and is even on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines.
Worse than both these things however, is the fact that nothing Shkreli did is illegal in the eyes of the FDA. It’s disappointingly unsurprising, but under the current medicine-related laws, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting exorbitant price tags on drugs that large numbers of people rely on.
As a result of a lot of aggressive lobbying from pharmaceutical companies, the US government can’t regulate medicine prices and sadly, the Daraprim debacle isn’t an isolated incident. Within the past few months alone, the prices of handfuls of generic and name-brand drugs have soared, cutting deeply into the pockets of the average ailing American.
These increases are, naturally, a result of pharmaceutical companies’ unquenchable thirst for profits, but are also a result of unexpected medical monopolization. The drug manufacturing industry in the US is unexpectedly volatile; many companies responsible for the creation of certain drugs end up getting merged with others or shut down outright, leading to a constantly shifting business landscape. Many companies, with their competitors swept away by these rapid corporate movements, are free to increase drug prices as they see fit, leading to the problems we see now.
Beyond everything else, though, this Game of Thrones-esque medical price game is yet another sad reminder that American health is a business, not a right. It’s disgusting that you’re only allowed to be healthy in this country if you have money, and even then, the price tags on things like medical procedures, insurance and drugs continue to get ratcheted up. I’ve seen too many documentaries and TV specials where teary-eyed people talk about people they knew who ended up dead because they couldn’t afford some medicine or an operation. There’s absolutely no reason things like this should be happening in a country that is purportedly technologically and culturally advanced such as the United States.
Although the $750 price point was shot down and Daraprim continues to be sold for the original $13.50, Turing Pharmaceuticals still plans on finding some way to make Daraprim more expensive to the general public, and there are no major medical legislation overhauls in the near future. Things may look sort of grim, but stay hopeful; the 2016 presidential election is getting closer and closer, and with it, a chance for things to change.
Evan Siegel is a second-year literary journalism major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.