Huge Price Hike on Old Lead-Poisoning Drug Angers Hospitals, Poison Control Centers

Five vials of calcium EDTA cost $27,000

A decades-old intravenous treatment for lead poisoning has hospitals and poison control centers seeing red after Valeant Pharmaceuticals hiked the price more than 2,700% in a single year, according to a report from STAT News. Valeant acquired the treatment––calcium EDTA––from another company in 2013.

Before Valeant took over, a package of five vials cost $950. But in January 2014, Valeant boosted the list price to $7,116. By December 2014, several more increases took the price to $26,927.

“This is a drug that has long been a standard of care, and until recently it was widely accessible at an affordable price,” Dr. Michael Kosnett, an associate clinical professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told STAT. “There’s no justification for the astronomical price increases by Valeant, which limit availability of the drug to children with life-threatening lead poisoning.”

Before a series of congressional hearings and an accounting scandal altered its playbook, Valeant regularly bought companies and then boosted prices on older medications to new heights, according to the STAT article. Recently, however, the company’s controversial strategy has been discredited; its stock price plunged; government investigations piled up; and a new management team was hired.

With regard to the calcium EDTA uproar, a Valeant spokesman told STAT that the current pricing is justified. “The list price increases over the past several years have enabled us to provide to the market consistent availability of a product with high carrying costs and very limited purchase volume of 200 to 300 units per year,” he said. Each unit contains a pack of five vials.

Only about 50 serious cases of lead poisoning were reported in 2015, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. But even this small outlay can take a toll on hospital finances and, by extension, public health, the STAT article maintains.

Source: STAT News; October 11, 2016.