A male pharmacist is examining a drug from a pharmacy inventory.

How Policies Enacted During COVID-19 Might Reduce Future Drug Spending

By Beatrice Brown

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted several states to take steps to temporarily authorize therapeutic substitution of drugs experiencing sudden shortages, whether due to spikes in demand or supply chain disruptions.

Although these instances of replacing patients’ typical prescription drugs with different drugs intended to have the same therapeutic effects have been prompted by necessity, therapeutic substitution more generally might reduce drug spending in the United States.

In a recent piece in the BMJ, Jonathan Darrow, Jessica Chong, and Aaron Kesselheim explore using state laws to expand the authority of pharmacists to substitute clinically similar alternatives in order to help cut spending. Actions taken by states to temporarily allow therapeutic substitution can help them gain experience with this strategy and potentially lead to broader and more permanent drug substitution policies that could help decrease drug spending.

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Pills spilling out of a few bills rolled in a cylinder

New Podcast Tackles Drug Pricing, Market Power, and More

About 24 percent of adults report difficulty in affording prescription drugs, including 9 percent who report it is “very difficult” to afford them and 15 percent who report it is “somewhat difficult.” Approximately 11 percent of adults reported rationing high-priced drugs in 2017.

Recently, @Arnold_Ventures launched a new podcast, “Deep Dive with Laura Arnold,” that tackles the issue of drug prices. In its debut episode, podcast host Laura Arnold sits down with David Mitchell, founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs, who began his fight for drug pricing reform after a devastating diagnosis of an incurable blood cancer. The cost of his medicine each year: $325,000. They discuss a broken system built to serve those who make money — not those who depend on it for their health.

“Our mission is to improve people’s lives by fixing broken systems,” Arnold says. “We view drug pricing as a broken system, and not just from a theoretical perspective, but from a human perspective. We see this as a crisis in our nation. People can’t afford their drugs, and the consequences for all of us, both personally and from a societal perspective, are dire.”

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