A Reader Writes:
The State of XXXXXX prescription price list noted Target Pharmacy as the cheapest for Suboxone at $6.99/Suboxone pill, 8mg-2mg, qty. 30. So I started getting my prescriptions filled at Target.
Well, needless to say they raised their prices twice since then and I am now paying $8.158333/Suboxone pill, 8mg-2mg, qty. 30, Nov. 12, 2011.
My question: How can they be alowed to jack their prices up so fast and so high in a short period of time? What can I do? It’s like they pulled a bait and switch on me.
Please write back Dr. Junig
I sympathize with you. The best thing you can do is have an educated and educatable doctor– someone who has enough humility to recognize when he/she is wrong, and adjust accordingly. Somebody who recognizes that as physicians, we are constantly sorting through new data, responding clinically to phenomena according to science. Most importantly, someone who recognizes that in medicine, as in all fields, people make assumptions about things with partial data, and sometimes later learn that their assumptions were wrong.
I realize that is difficult in the current era when people with addictions are considered ‘manipulative’ for simply raising appropriate questions. The truth is also competing with the marketing and persuasion tactics by Reckitt-Benckiser– a company that has found a way to influence policy-makers in government and addiction societies. I am generally a fan of corporate greed, as I believe that the marketplace is the best stage for ideas to rise or fall (mixing several metaphors, I know!) But I am appalled by the extent of involvement of Reckitt-Benckiser, the British corporation that makes Suboxone, with physician societies– the groups that are supposed to be advocating for policies that save lives that are being lost to addiction.
The generic tablet of orally-dissolving buprenorphine, 8 mg, is FDA-indicated for treating opioid dependence. In Wisconsin, some pharmacies have it for as low as $2.35 per tab; the more expensive places sell it for $3.00. It is CLINICALLY IDENTICAL to Suboxone; the naloxone in Suboxone is not absorbed sublingually (actually, 3%-5% is absorbed, but does nothing clinically), and after being swallowed the naloxone is completely destroyed at the liver by first pass metabolism.
Suboxone is supposedly safer then generic buprenorphine because naloxone supposedly causes withdrawal if injected. This is the only justification (initially put forth by the folks at Reckitt-Benckiser) the need for Suboxone. The justification is flimsy since many people who would benefit from the lower price of buprenorphine have very little risk of injecting the medication. But worse, the flimsy justification is a lie. People who have injected Suboxone intravenously (I have met and heard from many of them) report NO withdrawal from naloxone-containing Suboxone. What’s more, people who wrote to me who have injected both buprenorphine and Suboxone, at different times based based on availability, have all reported the same thing– that the subjective experience from injecting either substance is identical.
I must point out here that there are MANY reasons to avoid injecting any substance– but particularly a substance made to be taken orally. These compounds contain fillers that destroy the capillary beds of the lungs, where oxygen is absorbed– potentially leading to severe lung damage. And infection is always a huge risk, when placing poorly-sterilized material directly into the bloodstream. Please– don’t do it.
Back to taking buprenorphine properly… the high cost of Suboxone is an unfair burden for patients without insurance coverage, when a much cheaper, idential alternative is available.
I am going to remove your name and location, and put up your question on my blog; you are then welcome to bring a copy of the post to your doctor. You can also tell him/her to read prior posts, where I explain all of this in greater detail.
For Doctors and Insurance Formulary Committees:
I implore you to look into the facts of this situation with an open mind. I have a PhD in Neurochem, besides 10 years of experience as an anesthesiologist and training and experience in psychiatry. Some insurers cover buprenorphine; they are, of course, the smart ones. Your company can save a great deal of money by simply allowing the generic equivalent to be covered. States that mandate the use of Suboxone or Suboxone Film could save large sums of money for their taxpayers. And doctors– your cash-paying customers could really use the break, especially in this economy. If you are concerned that a patient is injecting medication, I understand your hesitancy— even though, frankly, it is misplaced, given that BOTH Suboxone and buprenorphine can be injected. If your patient pays cash, and never injected medication, do you REALLY think that person is going to start injecting buprenorphine– since doing so would not create any effects? The ‘ceiling effect’ is in place for ANY route of administration, so a patient taking sublingual Suboxone, who injects buprenorphine, will feel… NOTHING.
Give your patient the gift of affordable treatment as a Christmas present. You may be saving someone’s life.
Addendum 2023: It is now mostly realized that studies show that naloxone slightly reduces the liking score of injected buprenorphine — nothing more. Thankfully, Walgreens now provides #60 tabs of 8 mg buprenorphine for $20 using the GoodRx coupon.