Survey: Diabetes drugs now costliest

6/23/2008

FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J. —Diabetes treatments have become the leading driver of prescription drug spending growth, replacing lipid-lowering agents—which fell from the top spot after a decade-long reign—due largely to generic drugs cutting the cost of treating high cholesterol, according to a new report.

The report, by Medco Health Solutions, shows that despite continued growth in the use of cholesterol drugs, spending fell 8.5 percent in 2007 as usage of lower-cost generic versions of Pravachol and Zocor expanded in the marketplace, resulting in cholesterol medications experiencing the greatest spending decline of all drug categories. Meanwhile, spending on diabetes drugs increased 12 percent, driven by shifts to higher-cost treatments, brand-name drug price inflation and moderate growth in the number of patients receiving treatment.

While utilization of diabetes medications only increased a moderate 2.3 percent during 2007, the cost of diabetes treatments rose sharply as patients shifted to newer drugs. According to the makers of these drugs, these recently introduced medications have advantages over older drugs, as they tend to be faster-acting and can help patients better maintain consistent blood sugar levels and prevent complications from the disease.

“The diabetes epidemic and the introduction of new products are reshaping prescription spending patterns,” said Medco chief medical officer Robert Epstein. “The number of people diagnosed with diabetes is increasing by about a million patients per year—meaning more people need complex drug therapies to control their blood sugar. While medications are critical for controlling the disease, many of these cases could have been prevented or delayed with lifestyle changes, such as diet or exercise.”

Diabetes patients can take up to three medications to help keep in check the chronic disease, which affects about 21 million Americans.

The report also showed that spending in the anemia drug category fell by more than 15 percent in 2007, driven by new safety warnings on such drugs as Johnson & Johnson’s Procrit, and Amgen’s Epogen and Aranesp, indicating that high doses may be linked to cardiovascular and cancer-related risks.

Antidepressants also fell, as spending decreased by more than 8 percent. This was mostly due to generic introductions of such blockbusters drugs as Pfizer’s Zoloft and GlaxoSmithKline’s Wellbutrin XL.

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