Prescription drug spending hits $310 billion in 2015 as the US leads the world for the most expensive drugs

Prescription drug spending hits $310 billion in 2015 as the US leads the world for the most expensive drugs

Higher drug spending in the USA than any other country on earth. And not only are drugs more expensive here than anywhere else. Apparently we take more of them. The figures just came in for last year, and they’re staggering. In 2015, US consumers coughed up a record $310 billion for their pills and potions, an 8.4% increase from a year earlier. That’s all drugs from all sources. Yet compared to countries like Canada and the UK, many popular drugs here cost from twice as much to 10 or more times as much.

Prescriptions filled only at U.S. retail drug stores totaled $286.8 billion. The top five prescription -consuming states were California at $35.2 billion, followed by New York at $22.4 billion, Texas at $18.9 billion, Florida at $16.8 billion and Pennsylvania at $12.7 billion. Why are drugs so much more expensive here than they are in the United Kingdom, other European countries and Asia? Because almost everywhere else, health care systems include strict price controls and negotiation arrangements with the drug makers. But here in the USA such controls don’t exist, except for Medicare- Medicaid type drug coverage. And even with those, drug costs are much more expensive than overseas. Also, many drugs that are available as cheaper generics overseas aren’t approved here by the FDA, which continues to protect drug company patents and brand-name pricing.

Flies to Europe to buy pills

Drug costs are so much higher here that it’s cheaper for Zack Whittaker, a UK-born writer based in New York, to fly home to the UK twice a year to buy his prescriptions, say hi to his folks, and just fly back. Whittaker, a freelance writer for ZDNet and CNET, described his medical condition and his surprising but vastly less expensive solution in a Wired magazine article last year. Whittaker suffers from serious Tourette’s syndrome and really needs this particular medication just to live a normal life. He says he can get his badly needed meds “for a mere $12 every six months—the cost of a large and complicated mug of Starbucks coffee (and a pastry on the side),” he wrote. “Here in New York, where I live and work, to fill my prescription at any pharmacy in the city would cost just shy of $720 per month. And that figure is one of the cheapest quotes I’ve heard.” Doing the math, you can see the savings: The cheapest economy NY-London-NY round trip is roughly $1,100 or more. Twice a year would cost $2,200. And with the $48 for meds the total is $2,248 a year. At $720 a month here in the US, Whittaker’s meds would total $8,640 a year – nearly $6,400 more. And he gets to visit friends and family twice a year too! On the plus side, competition has been heating up in many therapeutic areas, which helps keep prices from rising too far and too fast. Pharmacy benefit managers who negotiate prices with drug companies have also been putting more pressure on drug makers to hold prices down. Many makers are also distributing coupons to patients for price breaks. And pharmacy industry analysts say a whole slew of new drugs are expected over the next few years that may help control prices as well as improve health care results. Roughly 6,320 new drugs are in the late-stage pipeline, and although most never make it to market, somewhere between 40 to 50 new drugs are expected to be launched every year over the next 5 years.

Big drop in opioid prescriptions

Total prescriptions last year reached 4.4 billion, up only 1 percent over the previous year. The leaders were antidepressants and diabetes drugs, each up about 10 percent. We’re not crazy about antidepressants because of the terrible side effects, including dependence. And we’re never happy to be reminded about America’s obesity and Type II diabetes epidemic. But a little good news in all this: Opioid painkiller prescriptions actually fell by about 16 percent last year from the year before. Hopefully this signals what we’ve all be hoping for – fewer opioid dependencies, addictions and overdoses. Meanwhile Novus is here providing state of the art medical detoxification for folks looking to get their lives back. If you or someone you care about needs help with substance use or abuse, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

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