Cost of valley fever prescriptions skyrocket

PHOENIX (AP) — The cost of a drug often prescribed to treat patients with valley fever is on the rise.

A sampling of prices in the Phoenix area for the generic drug fluconazole shows it costs as much as 15 times what it did at the start of the summer, The Arizona Republic reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/1ilL1cX).

Valley fever is an airborne fungal disease that can bring on fever, chest pain, coughing and other symptoms. Some people must take the prescription drug for months to cure the disease.

The price hike has doctors worried that uninsured patients will have trouble paying for the drug.

At one pharmacy, the newspaper reported, a one-month supply of 100-milligram tablets increased from $5.50 in June to $52 in mid-July when a manufacturer raised its price.

Veterinarians and animal-rescue groups say another concern is for dogs and other animals that are much more susceptible to the disease than people.

Dee Alschuler, who runs Lucky Dog Rescue in Phoenix, estimates that more than half of the new dogs she gets have valley fever, and many of the owners cite the cost of fluconazole for surrendering the pets.

“If it’s a bigger dog like a Great Dane, your costs can easily be $500 to $600 each month,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have the means to spend that much. That’s a car payment.”

People and animals get valley fever when they inhale airborne spores of the fungus Coccidioides, which is found in soil and spread by dust, wind and dirt-moving activity such as construction or rodent burrowing. Dogs often need long-term treatment, and many with advanced valley fever need medication for life.

Steve Malangone, a nurse practitioner with the University of Arizona’s Cancer Center, has seen how a drug price can financially devastate a cancer patient. But he never thought he’d see such rapid price swings for his pet medication.

He said the drug bill to treat his 125-pound dog went from $50 a month to $1,700 at a chain pharmacy. He shopped around and found a less expensive version, but he realized many consumers are stuck with the higher price.

“The bottom line is this hurts people, and it’s unethical,” Malangone said.

The drug companies that make the generic medication have offered little explanation for the dramatic price increase. A possible reason is that three generic-drug manufacturers have stopped making fluconazole, and the remaining manufacturers raised the price for the drug.

Erin Fox, director of the University of Utah’s drug-information service, said dramatic price changes and supply disruptions are common among generic manufacturers. There are no production quotas, and companies can simply discontinue making a drug without consequence.

Fox added that there’s no reported shortage of fluconazole.

Data suggest that drug companies simply are collecting more from sales of fluconazole. From January through June, the number of prescriptions dispensed increased 2 percent compared with the same period in 2012. But revenue surged 51 percent over the period, according to IMS Health, a health care-information company.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com

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