Jay urges 'gray market' drug reform
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is stepping up his efforts to strengthen federal regulations over price-gouging in selling prescription drugs.
There are ongoing House-Senate negotiations about legislation to reauthorize federal funding for the Food and Drug Administration.
As chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care, Rockefeller has been looking into "gray-market" companies that intentionally buy and stockpile widely needed drugs that are in short supply.
Those gray-market companies then sell those drugs at much higher prices to doctors and hospitals, including lifesaving medications for illnesses such as leukemia in children, breast cancer and seizures.
"It's shameful that some companies are trying to rig the prescription drug market so that people in dire need of lifesaving medication are forced to pay for the drugs at a higher cost," Rockefeller said Thursday.
"No West Virginian should have to delay serious treatment because they are unable to access a necessary prescription drug."
On Monday, Rockefeller and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democratic member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote a letter to members of Congress overseeing the ongoing investigation into the marketing of pharmaceuticals.
"We have identified multiple instances in which wholesalers obtained pharmacy licenses in order to obtain greater access to short-supply drugs, but then resold the drugs to other wholesalers rather than dispensing them to health-care providers or patients," Rockefeller and Cummings wrote.
"We have also identified pharmacies that do not appear to be complying with the terms of their state licenses, which require them to dispense all or most of their products to health-care providers or patients."
Last month, Cummings introduced House legislation titled the Gray Market Drug Reform and Transparency Act of 1912.
"Many of the distribution businesses we have identified in our investigations," Rockefeller and Cummings wrote, "appear to serve little purpose other than facilitating transactions during which gray market entities apply large markups."
On Thursday, Rockefeller urged House and Senate members working on the compromise FDA legislation to "take steps to prevent these shady companies from profiting off other people's serious medical needs."
During a Senate Finance Committee hearing in December, Rockefeller said, "Drug shortages pose a serious and growing threat to public health, and in some cases have been life-threatening.
"It's estimated that 550,000 cancer patients have had to miss or delay their chemotherapy treatments in this year  alone, while some antibiotics, intravenous drugs and drugs commonly used for heart patients have been particularly hard for hospitals and pharmacists to find."
Last year, an American Hospital Association survey found almost all hospitals across the country experienced at least one serious drug shortage during the previous six months.
Between 30 percent and 40 percent of cancer patients at one major hospital in West Virginia were impacted by drug shortages last year.
"Another West Virginia hospital reported that they were forced to buy an expensive brand-name colon cancer drug instead of the generic colon cancer drug they otherwise would have used -- at more than 10 times the price per dose," Rockefeller said.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5164.