Health Highlights: Jan. 31, 2017
Trump Pledges to Cut Drug Company Taxes and Regulations Steep Price Increases for Opioid Overdose Antidote George H.W. Bush Leaves Hospital Insulin Makers Conspired to Raise Prices: Lawsuit
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Trump Pledges to Cut Drug Company Taxes and Regulations
In a meeting Tuesday with drug company executives, U.S. President Donald Trump said he would cut their taxes and regulations in order to lower drug prices and create jobs.
Attendees included executives from Celgene, Merck, Johnson & Johnson and Amgen, the Associated Press reported.
It can take as long as 15 years and millions of dollars to get a new drug approved in the U.S., according to Trump. He said the current 9,000 pages of regulations should be slashed to 100.
Also, Trump said patients with terminal illnesses should be allowed to try treatments that are not fully approved, the AP reported.
Trump's tone at the meeting was far different than his first press conference as president, when he said drug companies had been "getting away with murder" because the federal government did not make them compete for its business.
After the meeting, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier told reporters that the session was "very constructive" and that Trump was "very much focused" on finding ways to give patients more choices, the AP reported.
Trump said he will soon identify his pick to head the FDA.
Steep Price Increases for Opioid Overdose Antidote
The cost of an injector device to treat overdoses from opioid drugs such as powerful painkillers and heroin has increased more than six-fold as demand as risen along with the U.S. opioid abuse epidemic.
The Evzio device is made by a Virginia company called Kaleo and delivers the drug naloxone. The price of the device has increased to $4,500 -- up from $690 in 2014 when it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Between 2015 and 2016, Evzio accounted for about one-fifth of naloxone dispensed through retail outlets, and for nearly half of all naloxone products prescribed to people ages 40-64, an age group that accounts for most naloxone users.
The cost of generic, injectable naloxone is also on the rise. For example, the price of a 10-milliliter vial from one of the leading sellers is now nearly $150, more than twice what it cost a few years ago. Another product with a smaller but stronger dose now costs close to $40, about double its cost in 2009, the Inquirer reported.
Experts say the price increases have far outpaced production costs.
"There's absolutely nothing that warrants them charging what they're charging," Leo Beletsky, an associate professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University in Boston, told the Inquirer.
In response to the nation's opioid abuse epidemic, experts have urged expanded access to naloxone in order to reduce overdose deaths.
Federal and state governments have equipped police officers and other first responders with naloxone, and it is kept in public places such as schools, libraries and coffee shops in communities with high rates of opioid overdoses, the Inquirer reported.
Also, many doctors prescribe naloxone to patients who are taking opioid painkillers so that they, along with their families and friends, are prepared in case of an overdose.
George H.W. Bush Leaves Hospital
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush left Houston Methodist Hospital Monday after spending more than two weeks there being treated for pneumonia.
Bush, 92, arrived at the hospital on Jan. 14 with breathing problems and had a blockage removed from his lung, NBC News reported.
He has a form of Parkinson's disease and has experienced other respiratory issues in recent years.
A few days after the former president arrived at the hospital, his 91-year-old wife Barbara Bush was also hospitalized for bronchitis. She was discharged a week ago, NBC News reported.
Insulin Makers Conspired to Raise Prices: Lawsuit
Three makers of insulin conspired to boost the prices of the lifesaving diabetes drug, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Massachusetts.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association said the price of insulin nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013, and three manufacturers -- Sanofi, Novo Nordisk and Eil Lilly -- have raised the list prices of their insulin in near unison, The New York Times reported.
The price increases have triggered anger among patient groups and doctors, who say the rising cost of insulin appears to have little to do with higher production costs.
"People who have to pay out of pocket for insulin are paying enormous prices, when they shouldn't be," Steve Berman, a lawyer for the patients, told The Times.
The lawsuits alleges that the three companies increased the list prices on their insulin in order to win favor with pharmacy benefit managers, who team with drug makers and health insurers to determine how a drug will be covered on a list of approved drugs.
While benefit managers are complicit, the lawsuit targets the drug makers because "they are playing the game, and they are the ones who publish the list price," Berman said.
Representatives for the three drug companies could not immediately be reached for comment, The Times reported.
The lawsuit includes several examples of diabetes patients who can't afford the up-to-$900 cost of their insulin and have resorted to using expired insulin or starving themselves to control their blood sugar.