As 2019 draws to a close, let’s look back at some of the top pharmacy news stories of the year.
In no particular order:
The increasing price of insulin has been widely reported in 2019. Patients are traveling to Canada in search of cheaper insulin; many report rationing insulin to make it “last longer.” Insulin prices have tripled in the last decade; manufacturers are under pressure to lower prices.
Novo Nordisk, Sanofi, and Eli Lilly are the three biggest suppliers of insulin worldwide. All three companies have announced plans to attempt to lower costs in the near future, through authorized generics, manufacturer coupons, and discounted prices.
As the price of insulin has skyrocketed, insurance companies are getting involved. In April, Cigna and its PBM, Express Scripts, announced a new program for patients with diabetes in the commercial plan that would limit the copay of a 30-day supply of insulin to $25.
After cutting bonuses and making 2018 benefit changes, Walgreens said Q1 2019 was “difficult” and the company stated that it would save another $500 million per year (in December 2018, the company pledged to save $1 billion per year). Walgreens also said it would close 750 of the acquired Rite Aid stores, 150 more stores than first reported.
CVS also announced a slowing of expansion and plans to close 22 more stores next year. Fred’s Pharmacy announced that all remaining stores would be closing and the company filed for bankruptcy.
USP General Chapter <800>
USP (US Pharmacopeia) General Chapter <800> went into effect on December 1.
Formally titled USP General Chapter <800> Hazardous Drugs—Handling in Healthcare Settings, it “provides standards for safe handling of hazardous drugs to minimize the risk of exposure to healthcare personnel, patients, and the environment.”
Opioid Crisis and Lawsuits
In the “Review of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Regulatory and Enforcement Efforts to Control the Diversion of Opioids” released in September by the Office of the Inspector General, findings stated “that DEA does not capture sufficient data to detect the diversion of opioids or emerging drug trends in a timely manner.” The report states that despite the alarmingly increasing rates of deaths due to opioids, the DEA was allowing manufacturers to produce larger quantities of opioids, and that the DEA was “slow to respond to the significant increase in the use and diversion of opioids since 2000.”
The Sackler family, founders of Purdue Pharma, is being sued in thousands of cases. The family amassed a $13 billion fortune mostly from sales of OxyContin; they are accused of pushing OxyContin sales by deceiving prescribers and patients, even though they allegedly knew how dangerous and addictive the drug was. Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy in September.
Johnson & Johnson recently agreed to settle an Ohio opioid lawsuit for $20.4 million, and in August paid a $572 million settlement for its involvement in the Oklahoma opioid crisis. Several other companies are also facing lawsuits.
CBD Popularity Grows
In 2019, CBD exploded in popularity. Cannabis research firm Brightfield Group projects CBD sales to exceed $5 billion by the end of 2019, a 706% increase from last year. The company projects that the CBD industry’s total market value could reach $23.7 billion by 2023.