Drug shortages raise price of alternative treatments: 4 study findings

Low supplies of prescription drugs not only complicate patient care, they also make it more expensive, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Here are four things to know.

1. From 2014 to 2015, the healthcare industry experienced a shortage of the bladder cancer drug BCG. The shortage, which was caused by factory contamination at Sanofi and Merck & Co.'s plants, forced physicians to delay treatment, lower doses or switch to alternative drugs, reports The Wall Street Journal.

2. Shortly after the start of the shortage in August 2014, the average wholesale price of mitomycin — an alternative, yet less effective, generic treatment for bladder cancer — nearly doubled to $869.59. A lower-dose version of the drug increased 146 percent to $165 per vial, according to the study, which used data from Truven Health Analytics.

"Not only can we not give you the drug we want to give you, but the drug we don't want to give you is now more expensive than it was last month," study co-author Benjamin Davies, MD, a urology professor at University of Pittsburgh (Pa.) School of Medicine told WSJ.

3. As the shortage continued into 2015, the cost of mitomycin increased again to $1,415 for the higher-dose vial and $272.46 for the lower-dose vial, researchers found. The researchers suspect the increases were the result of price gouging by drugmakers, according to the report.

4. The price hikes caused Medicare to spend $15.8 million on mitomycin in 2015, compared to $4.3 million in 2012, according to the report.

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