One pharmaceutical company in the U.S. is charging 200 times more than British firms for a simple pinworm treatment.
Impax Laboratories, maker of mebendazole, a pill used to treat the parasitic infection known as pinworm, began selling the drug at an average price of $442 per pill this year, according to reports given to the Financial Times. The typical round of treatment for pinworms require a patient to take two doses of mebendazole, which ends up costing around $884.
Mebendazole is available only in the U.S., but British pharmacies sell generic four-packs of the drug for just over $7.
Pinworm infection is the most commonly occurring form of intestinal worm infection in the U.S., and one of the most common in the world, infecting an average of 200 million people a year. The infection is most common among school children, and worm larvae are easily spread from child to child.
The drug is among those on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of essential medications, and can sell in the developing world for as little as 1 cent per pill.
The exorbitant cost of mebendazole was not always the case in the U.S., and a generic version of the medication was available on the market until 2011, when it was removed by Teva, the pill’s manufacturer. Impax reintroduced the pill to market in April, 2016, and is currently the only provider of mebendazole in the nation.
While many inside the pharmaceutical industry were familiar with Impax before 2016, those on the outside became familiar with the firm when it sold Daraprim, a life-saving medication for AIDs and Cancer patients, to Turing, a firm run by the wildly disliked entrepreneur Martin Shrkeli.
Shrkeli turned around and raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 a pill to $750, causing widespread backlash from the public and Congress. Daraprim, like mebendazole, is listed on the WHO’s list of essential medications, and is available to those in developing nations at almost no cost.
Pricing of pharmaceuticals came into the public discourse when it was discovered in August that Mylan, the maker of the life-saving epinephrine injection device EpiPen, raised the price of the EpiPen 461 percent in under a decade.
If a family has good health coverage, the cost of the drug should be somewhat offset to a manageable figure. For the millions of Americans who cannot find health coverage, or coverage that is broad enough to cover costs, the extraordinary cost of mebendazole may prove to be too much. Some cheaper insurance plans only cover up to 50 cents on the dollar per pill, leaving a person with as high as a $442 bill.
While there is a powder form of the drug available at a lower cost, experts note that this treatment option is less effective and can cause damage to the person’s central nervous system.
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