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Prescription Drugs in Prison—Watch Out

Prescription Drugs in Prison—Watch Out
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Handcuffs, Medicine Bottle and Pills Under Spot Light
What we are looking at is a potential storm of inmate addiction, violence, and soaring federal medical costs.
Last month we told you about how under the new healthcare law, many more prisoners will receive powerful psychotropic drugs to treat mental illness—despite the fact that these drugs are linked to addiction, crime, and violent homicidal outbursts. The social consequences of treating inmates with these drugs is frightening.
Earlier, we told you about a new drug called Sovaldi to treat hepatitis C. It can cure up to 80% of hepatitis C cases in as little as twelve weeks—all at the low, low price of $84,000 per course of treatment. Why is the price of this drug so high?
Sovaldi’s $1,000-a-day price tag was a bit of sticker shock for several members of Congress: on March 20, three members of the powerful Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to the CEO of Gilead Sciences demanding an explanation of “the methodology used to establish Sovaldi’s pricing,” particularly since “a breakthrough treatment for hepatitis C could result in significant public health benefits.”
While Gilead has yet to publically respond to the committee, we believe the Sovaldi price-setting equation may be closely linked to America’s burgeoning prison population. Here are a few crucial facts:

Over 50% of those infected with hepatitis C depend on taxpayer-funded healthcare. Across the country’s various prison systems, 13 to 54% of inmates have hepatitis C. 
+State jails are legally obligated to provide high-quality (and inherently pricy) treatments like Sovaldi to prisoners. 
+Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), states can now shift much of their constitutional burden to provide healthcare to prisoners to federal taxpayers. 
=$1,000-a-day price tag, per inmate, for Hep C treatment.

Quite simply, it seems that Gilead can charge so much because they know that your tax dollars are paying for the healthcare of one of Sovaldi’s biggest target audiences: convicted felons.
Who would have thought that prisons would be the next frontier for Big Pharma profits? Big Pharma clearly has. Once the government has signed on, millions of literally captive customers are assured.
To fully understand Big Pharma’s prison arithmetic, Illinois is one of six states currently signing state prisoners up for Obamacare and ACA-expanded Medicaid. Illinois also happens to be one of the first states to approve Sovaldi for the treatment of its prisoners.
Increased costs aren’t limited to Sovaldi: the overall cost of healthcare for inmates ballooned 52% from 2001 to 2008 (another reason why states are trying to pass the financial hot potato onto the federal government).
Of course, there are a variety of cost-effective natural treatments that could help manage hepatitis C, but none seem to have to potential of Sovaldi to cure it:

  • As noted by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, clinical trials have shown that milk thistle, when compared with placebo, increases hepatitis C survival rates, decreases symptoms, and provides histological improvement (a reduction in tissue inflammation).
  • Licorice root extract has been shown to reduce ALT, an enzyme that is elevated in people with chronic hepatitis, and can help augment the results of interferon treatment.
  • Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, have found that the bioflavonoids catechin, naringenin, and quercetin can act as hepatitis C antivirals.
  • Vitamin D alone can make an enormous difference for the body’s ability to handle any viral infection. But regular vitamin D is natural, and therefore not patentable. So don’t expect Pharma or its partners in government to show any interest. Even if governments allowed the use of supplemental vitamin D-3 in prison, you can be sure the dose would be too low to do any good.

We all need to utilize safe, effective, and economical alternatives to lucrative Big Pharma drugs. We also need to break the government protected monopoly that allows a company to charge $1,000 per pill. But so long as the money keeps flowing back and forth between Pharma and public officials, it will be difficult to rein in the current plague of crony medicine.

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