The Guy Who Raised the Cost of the AIDS Drug Isn’t the Problem

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Martin Shkrelli is a hedge fund manager who has recently come under fire for being the world’s biggest piece of shit after it was revealed he raised the price of the drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill. Daraprim is used by both pregnant women and AIDS patients to literally save their lives.

The funny thing is that this isn’t the first time Shkrelli has done this. Also I’m going to try to stop saying “Shkrelli” because it makes my mouth do disgusting things. “Shkrelli.” Ugh. I’ll just call him “Shithead.”

Shithead did this last year, too, raising the cost of the drug Retrophin, used for treating a kidney disorder, by about 20 times.

Amusingly, he went on Reddit to defend himself for that, and he promised Redditors that he’d personally come up with solutions to make sure that people who needed the drug would still be able to access it. Instead, he just moved on and did it again to another group of sick people. Shithead.

After all the recent bad publicity, he agreed to lower the price of Daraprim again. But obviously, he’s a giant piece of shit and as soon as no one is looking, he’ll just do it again to a different life-saving medication.

That’s why this entire thing isn’t about Shithead at all. I fully endorse the public bollocking he’s received for his actions, but in the end, shaming one shithead isn’t enough. The US allows the pharmaceutical industry far too much power over the cost of their products, and it’s ridiculous that companies are allowed to charge inflated prices here while claiming it’s to fund research while spending all their money on marketing and leaving it to the National Institutes of Health to do the bulk of new drug research.

I say this as someone who is constantly accused of being in the pocket of Big Pharma, because I point out that homeopathy is bullshit and most chiropractors are dangerous loons. Unfortunately, Big Pharma is all we’ve got when it comes to science-based medicine, and so it’s incredibly important that we recognize that they do have a powerful lobby and sometimes the people who make up Big Pharma are in fact going to be some sociopathic douchebags who are more concerned with their bottom line than with saving lives.

So before you assume that the issue is solved because Shkrelli lowered the cost of Daraprim, remember that he’s done nothing about the other life-saving drugs he’s made into unobtainable luxury items and you probably didn’t hear anything about it. The only way to stop this from happening is governmental oversight, and the only way to do that is to elect politicians who aren’t in the pocket of major corporations.

Shit, this just turned into a Bernie Sanders video, didn’t it?

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Great stuff, until right at the end when Rebecca suggests elections can be a solution. Elections are a sham, not so much by secretive rigging or fraud, ‘tho that exists in the counting process. I suggest other activities are more effective. Skeptical education is one.

    I am fine with bringing up politics here, just disagree about elections.

  2. This is why markets don’t work in certain areas. If demand for a good is inelastic, the “proper” price is “all the money”. Since demand for many many goods (shelter, medicine, water) is inelastic, a “free market” is impossible.

    1. Well, nominally the price can still be elastic on the supply side(i.e. who will pay 750 if someone else sells a similar medication at 15?).

      The reality of our system shows that response rates on the supply side are way too slow to change to allow that, and in the mean time sick people die and scumbags get rich.

  3. I was intimately involved in the ramp-up to Medicare Part D. The immense work of hundreds of physicians, pharmacists, Ph.D. econometricians, biostatisticians, epidemiologists, social service providers, and elderly themselves was scrapped. In the end, 95 percent of Part D was written by Pfizer. This is no hyperbole, but cold hard fact.

    Then, I was intimately involved in the post-implementation analysis. The law specified that every two years its effectiveness needed to be reviewed. There were plans for systematic analyses of senior health outcomes, access, costs, etc. These two were 86ed. What did Dubya’s administration do? They had me interview the CFOs of the ten biggest pharmcos to ask how things were goin’. “Goin’ GREAT!”, they replied, with complete unanimity, particularly Pfizer and Merck. The only modest counterweight was that I had to also interview the CFOs of the 10 biggest retain pharmacy chains. Walgreens and Rite-Aid and Rexall and CVS weren’t quite so jolly about things.

    Did we do any epidemiology? Did we interview any seniors? Did we examine out-of-pocket costs? Did we analyze programmatic shortcomings? I’ll give you three guesses, then subtract two for luck.

    1. Pfizer and Merck huh? Those are two of the most offensive pharmas there are. Just look at Merck’s involvement with the FDA. You should have asked them how they felt about Vioxx ;-) and their blacklisting of physicians who wouldn’t prescribe it and the research data they doctored. I believe two former Merck employees went whistleblower and went right to the DoJ about the ineffectiveness of Merck’s mumps vac. And wasn’t Pfizer the one whose vice president left and turned whistleblower on the whole operation?

  4. Yes, this unfortunate waste of space has his beady eyes on our NHS, and should the TTIP agreement go ahead, it will make British businesses and organisations answerable to US trade laws, and vultures like Shithead will be lining their pockets like Ebeneezer Scrooge at Christmas. The Conservative government is already trying to sell off our health service by the back door, as it knows twats like Shithead are falling over themselves to get their snouts in the trough. Hands off my healthcare, shithead.

    Nice use of the word “bollocking” by the way.

  5. I’ve never understood drug ads. I’m not a doctor, I didn’t spend a gazillion years studying this shit, why in the world would I tell my doctor what to prescribe? I loathe the ads with every fiber of my being and always have.

  6. Drug ads definitely need to go. I am always amused by how class action lawsuit commercials always follow drug ads, that says a lot right there. I was involved with the embargo of certain cancer drugs at Mt Sinai Hospital (there was a documentary about it on 60 Minutes) where we refused to prescribe certain drugs because of the price inflation from the pharmaceutical industry by 4x over the prices in Canada and Europe. Then they try to bribe you into prescribing their drugs (in our case it was $2000 per prescription) and send over pretty drug reps to “convince” us and also pay for residents’ personal needs- enough said.

    1. Indeed. People act like doctors are influenced too much by Big Pharma, but really, the lion’s share of the influence is on patients in the form of direct-to-consumer marketing.

  7. I found the reporting on this topic to be really awful. I have read a half dozen articles and none of them explains exactly how the scam worked.

    The only way to jack up prices that much is if there is monopoly pricing power. But that can come from several different mechanisms. There is a program that allows companies to get what amounts to a patent on an old drug for getting it through the modern clinical trials program. There are also certain limits on the importation of foreign generics that might be at issue.

    I want to know how this happened so I can work out whether Bernie or Hilary is talking the most sense when it comes to how to deal with it. I have absolutely no doubt that they are both utterly disgusted but getting angry and doing something about the cause are two different things.

    It is of course utterly ridiculous to expect any of the Republican candidates to care about such issues. They are much too busy trying to out-gross each other by telling the biggest lie.

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