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Nuedexta: A New Pharmaceutical Cash Cow and a New Entry For “Absurd Products”


The story below is another example of how unrestrained capitalism can distort markets by creating enormous profits for a few while gouging many.  Medicine is one area of life where the profit motive should not be allowed to reign supreme.  Putting a high price on relief of suffering diminishes human lives.

Nuedexta is a combination of dextromethorphan and quinidine, two cheap generic drugs, that is effective for “pseudobulbar affect” (PBA), a disorder characterized by excessive or involuntary laughing and crying.  The disorder is uncommon and often misdiagnosed; it is usually brought on by a small stroke or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease.)  It is estimated to affect 2 million Americans.

The company that bought the patent from the researchers who discovered it was sold for $3.5 billion in 2014 and sales of the drug earned $218 million last year.  Sales are lucrative because the drug combination costs about $700 a month (while the generic ingredients sell for less than $20.)

Sales have been driven by TV advertising, including a particularly effective spot done by the actor Danny Glover.  Pharmaceutical companies spent a total of $6.4 billion on advertising last year, and anyone who watches cable TV news will attest to the ubiquity of drug ads.  The US is one of only two companies in the world that allows TV advertising of drugs.

(All the above is sourced from an article in the New York Times from today.)

In order to give fair remuneration to those who researched the combination of these two drugs while at the same time not over-burdening the consumer, a patent on the mixture can be granted as per routine, but the price of the combination should be regulated so as not to produce an absurd result– a markup of over 3000%.  Perhaps a 300% surcharge would be more reasonable.  These issues call for fine judgements, not “whatever the market will bear.”

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