Isn’t that special?
Some common terms did keep popping up. “Special storage and handling” was one of them. Maybe I could start there.
I checked out Sovaldi, the breakthrough hepatitis treatment that everyone seems to agree is a “specialty drug.” According to its package insert, it should be stored “at room temperature, below 86 degrees F.” Nothing special about that. It also says that the drug should be dispensed only in its original container — just like the non-specialty Pradaxa that sits on the shelf next to me as I type.
Another common characteristic of “specialty drugs” seems to be their expense, and at $1,000 a pill, Solvaldi certainly qualifies. Not every med that is given “specialty” status is that costly, however. Some run “only” a few thousand dollars for the most common unit-of-use containers. Like the Valcyte and Noxafil I order in and dispense every month, which don't seem to make the “specialty drug” cut.
I thought maybe I should get back to the “special storage and handling” angle. I remember when my employer started carrying the Zostavax shingles vaccine and a special thermometer was installed for the freezer. It was very important that the product not be stored at temperatures above 5 degrees F. To protect the company's investment, this thermometer had an alarm that would go off if it were exposed to something outside the specified temperature range. We also had to log twice a day that we checked the temperature of the freezer to ensure that it was working properly. Surely that made Zostavax one of those “specialty meds.”
Nope. (Or maybe it does, depending on whom you ask.)
My attempt to take a writing shortcut had turned into a lot more work than I expected.
Frustrated, I decided to take the bull by the horns and do the pharmacy world a favor. I will now put forth what will be the only official definition of the term “specialty drug,” which I propose shall be the accepted standard until someone comes up with another.