The best way to fight back against skyrocketing drug prices

If you’re on any prescription meds, you are acutely aware of the rising price of pharmaceuticals. But still, I think you’ll be shocked when you hear just how sharply the prices are rising. I know I was.

A few months back, the manufacturers of EpiPen — the epinephrine shot that people with life-threatening allergies need to save their lives in case of anaphylaxis — found themselves at the center of a firestorm about skyrocketing drug prices. Turns out the cost of the drug skyrocketed from $57 per shot in 2007 to as much as $325 per shot in 2016. That’s a rise of 570 percent in less than a decade.

The manufacturers understand that people’s lives depend on the drug. They’re non-negotiable for kids and adults with severe allergies. Which means that customers have no choice but to pay the rising costs. Even if it means the difference between paying the electricity bill that month or not.

But while EpiPen has become the posterchild for pharmaceutical price gouging, it’s hardly unique. In fact, 10 drugs on the Medicare Part D program posted price increases of more than 100 percent (in other words, their costs more than doubled) in just one year. An increase that accounted for almost $1.5 billion in additional spending, according to figures released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

And the 2015 award for steepest price hike goes to a drug that’s far more common than the EpiPen: the diabetes drug metformin.

Despite being more than 50 years old — and a generic form — its manufacturers somehow managed to up the price by 381 percent in just one year — up to a jaw-dropping $39.10 per pill.

Right behind metformin was hydroxychloroquine sulfate, a drug for malaria, arthritis, and lupus. The increase? A startling 372 percent. And this is another generic drug, as were most of those with the most dramatic price increases.

Doesn’t that go against everything we’ve heard about generics? I thought they were supposed to be the answer to through-the-ceiling drug costs.

These increases aren’t just baffling from a business perspective (I’m certain that if I tried to quadruple my fees from one year to the next, I’d lose a lot of business), they’re just plain unfathomable from an ethical perspective. A lot of these medications are life-and-death for those who use them. Increasing prices in this way forces some people to have to decide between medication and food.

I’ve seen it affect my own patients. And I had an opportunity to call a drug manufacturer to task for it. But the truth is it’s not only the manufacturers claiming a bigger piece of the pie. Let me explain…

There’s an all-natural thyroid product that I prescribe frequently. It’s very effective — a far superior alternative to the synthetic version — and it’s affordable. Or at least it was.

Until recently, my patients were able to get it for about $5 for a three-month supply. Great, right? But suddenly my Medicare patients started asking me to prescribe the synthetic drug instead. Which is a terrible decision, for reasons I’ll explain another day. But they insisted. Why? Because the price of the natural version had spiked, and they could no longer afford it.

Well I happened to be speaking at a medical conference not long after. And guess who had a booth in the exhibit hall? That’s right, the manufacturers of the natural thyroid product that had suddenly become unaffordable. So I went over to the booth and asked the guy there, “Why have your prices gone up so dramatically?”

Not surprisingly, he rattled off the usual list of reasons: higher raw materials prices, supply costs, and so on. But then he showed me something that left my head spinning.

He pulled out his price list to show me what he charges pharmacies for the drug. I was expecting to see huge numbers. But that’s not at all what I saw.

The price the pharmacy was paying? Between $3 and $7 for 30 pills. Now guess what my patients were paying…

They were shelling out anywhere from $80 to $170 for those same 30 pills!

Is there ever any legitimate reason for drug companies to raise their prices at such astounding rates? Can you name me one other company that raises its rates that dramatically — and stays in business?

I know we all have to make a living, but that kind of markup is just outrageous. But they know they can do it because we have no other choice. We need our medications.

Or do we?

Sometimes, sure. But many of the drugs on the price-spike list were ones for conditions that can be controlled without meds — like diabetes and cholesterol.

If you want to really show the pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies that you won’t stand for these unjustified hikes, here’s the way to do it: Ditch the drugs and control your health with diet and lifestyle.

Not sure where to start?

Well, no matter what health challenges you may be facing, you can’t go wrong by cutting sugar and exercising (even a 10-minute walk after each meal helps).

For more tips on managing specific conditions naturally, just log in to the Subscriber section of my site and you’ll find well-researched, proven techniques to get you started. (If you’re not already a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.