The 80-year-old drug Seconal cost just under $200 for a lethal dose in 2009, but had increased to $1,500 by the time Valeant Pharmaceuticals bought the rights to it -- and doubled the price within months. Photo by Photographee.eu/Shutterstock
WASHINGTON, March 28 (UPI) -- The 80-year-old drug Seconal, a once widely used sleeping pill now often prescribed as an end-of-life treatment, has doubled in price as laws go into effect in several states this year permitting terminally ill patients to take their own lives.
Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which is among companies being investigated by Congress for price gouging, doubled the price of Seconal last year from $1,500 to $3,000 after acquiring the rights to it.
Seconal was the latest "mispriced" drug bought by Valeant with the intent of slashing staffs and raising the price, a common practice in the pharmaceutical industry that drew the attention of Congress and most of the country after Turing Pharmaceuticals bought and immediately increased the price of Daraprim by 5,000 percent.
On March 21, Valeant CEO J. Michael Pearson was forced by the company's board of directors to resign, bringing to an end the empire he'd built buying drugs and companies, reducing costs and increasing the prices of older, cheaper drugs to boost the company's profits.
Seconal has existed for about 80 years and was used as a sleeping pill until people began dying because of accidental overdoses or taking the drug with alcohol. It is often used with terminally ill patients who choose to end their lives because it effectively puts them to sleep.
Seconal had increased in price from less than $200 in 2009 to $1,500 in 2015 before Valeant bought it, and then the company doubled the price to $3,000 as California state representatives were considering a bill to legalize assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. The law goes into effect in June, with some saying patients and their families are likely to get sticker shock.
"It's just pharmaceutical company greed," David Grube, a family doctor in Oregon, told KQED. "It's not a complicated thing to make, there's no research being done on it, there's no development. That to me is unconscionable."
The drug was among several it bought from Marathon Pharmaceuticals in 2015, including the heart medications Isuprel and Nitropress -- increasing the prices of those drugs by 525 percent and 212 percent.
"Whatever one's position on aid in dying, this is another reminder of how pricing affects access to different forms of health care in the U.S.," Nancy Berlinger, deputy director at The Hastings Center, told STAT. "Suddenly, someone has to worry about obtaining the drug at the end of their own life. And it's a troubling question. Change in availability has ethical consequences."