MIND MATTERS: Why are psychiatric medications so expensive? | Features

Many of us have gotten a prescription filled recently. You may have noticed that the cost of medications, including psychiatric medications, has gone up over the years. According to an April 2016 article in Fortune, the total amount spent by hospitals and pharmacies for medications in 2015 was $424.8 billion, up 12.2% from 2014 levels. One half of that spending was for branded drugs that were less than two years old.

There were 4.37 billion prescriptions processed in 2015, and mental health drugs such as antidepressants were right up there among the most popular and most often prescribed. The presence of even more prescribers such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners has also driven the total number of prescriptions up in recent years.

Why are psychiatric medications so expensive?

First of all, research and development costs are skyrocketing. According to economist Joe DiMasi of the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, the cost for developing and marketing a new drug can reach $2.6 billion. It can take from ten to twelve years from the inception of a new drug to placement in the market, and post-approval research and testing can easily tack on another $312 million to that cost. We should also remember that for every blockbuster drug that makes it, there are many that do not ever see the light of day. R&D costs for those drugs must be absorbed and covered by pharmaceutical companies, even though they may never see a penny of profit from failed drugs.

The FDA has a series of fairly rigorous research and testing requirements that each new drug must satisfy before it is approved for human use. This multiphase system ensures that the new drug is safe, does what it is supposed to do, and has no serious side effects such as birth defects, cardiac problems or even death. These trials are expensive, sometimes requiring the…

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