Over the past year, there has been a lot of talk around how to reduce prescription drug prices in the US. However, there has been little consensus on the issue, which has made passing actual drug pricing reform difficult. As a result, lawmakers have recently introduced legislation which could cut costs in a way that they hope will be more acceptable.
Late last month, two US Senators introduced their bill, the Reducing Drug Waste Act of 2017, which aims to tackle the issue of unnecessary drug waste in the US. Citing a report published by ProPublica, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Chuck Grassley argue that millions of dollars are wasted every year due to oversized packaging for certain drugs, namely eye drops and cancer medications. Reducing this waste is an easy way to cut costs for needy patients and improve the overall healthcare system.
With regards to eyedrops, the ProPublica report claims that drug companies are known to provide their drugs in a dispenser that makes the typical drop larger than what the actual eye can hold, sometime two to three times larger. This results in excess medication overflowing and running down the users’ cheeks, only to be wiped away. According to the report, certain drops are made so big that, if they were pills, it would be the same as swallowing one and throwing away another.
This unnecessary waste often results in patients running out of medication before their insurance companies agree to refill their prescriptions. For desperate patients who struggle to make expensive bottles of eyedrops last, this is a serious issue.
The report also highlighted a similar issue when it comes to the packaging used for certain cancer drugs. Many companies provide patients with medication in a high fixed dosage that often exceeds patient needs, i.e. providing all patients with 200mg vials even though patients with lower BMI actually only require 50 or 100mg. Further still, these companies usually provide the medications in single-use vials rather than sharable vials, which means that, even when patients do not need all of the drug, the remainder cannot be used to treat another patient. This results in large amounts of excess drug being thrown out by hospital and nursing home staff, even when it is in perfectly good condition.
Although no one officially tracks this waste nationwide, The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that around 740 tons of drugs are thrown out by nursing homes each year.
Recognizing that these problems exist, and contribute to the drug pricing issue in the US, the new bill would direct the FDA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to come up with potential solutions.
However, the drug waste issue is not a new phenomenon, and efforts have been made in the past to address it, so it remains to be seen whether this new bill will be able to gain any traction.