New York launches investigation into drug price spikes connected to COVID-19 pandemic

ALBANY (WCBS 880) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday announced the state will be investigating significant price spikes for six drugs that are connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each of the drug manufacturers will be required to provide information to justify the price hikes to the Department of Financial Services' newly formed Office of Pharmacy Benefits.

They will be required to answer several questions, such as when the pricing decisions were made, who was involved in the decisions, what analysis was done prior to the price spike and the reasons given internally for the increase in cost.

In a statement, Cuomo said it was “shameful” to increase the costs of life-saving drugs, especially during these unprecedented times.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we've seen too many instances of pharmaceutical companies taking advantage of those in need and significantly raising the prices on life-saving prescription drugs," Cuomo said. "This shameful behavior cannot stand and needs to be rooted out at all costs. Companies should be on notice - if you attempt to capitalize on the health needs of New Yorkers, we will investigate you and hold you fully accountable.”

The Office of Pharmacy Benefits notes that an extreme price spike can “be a real barrier to lifesaving treatment” in any situation.

"It requires extreme greed and cynicism to see a global pandemic costing millions of lives as an opportunity for profit," added Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health Dr. Howard Zucker.

If the companies can prove valid reasoning for the price spikes, the state will announce that development and close the investigation.

The drugs under investigation include:

Ascor (ascorbic acid) 25,000 mg/50 mL bulk vial - Ascor is a formulation of Vitamin C for IV injection manufactured by McGuff Pharmaceuticals. McGuff raised the price of this drug by 110% about a week after clinical trials were announced for use of the drug to treat COVID-19 patients suffering acute symptoms.

Budesonide 0.5 mg/2 mL inhalation (60 mL) - One of two corticosteroids to be investigated, a generic formulation produced by Cipla USA Inc. increased in price by over 1350% in the midst of the first wave of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and on the heels of an announcement of international clinical trials for its use to treat COVID-19 patients.

Dexonto (dexamethasone) 5 mL vial of a 0.4% solution - Dexonto is the other corticosteroid under investigation and is a branded generic drug manufactured by Nubratori, Inc.  This manufacturer announced a price increase of over 65% at the beginning of the pandemic, just 11 days before clinical trials for treating COVID-19 patients with the drug were announced in China.

Mytesi (crofelemer) 125 mg delayed release tablet, 60s - Manufactured by Jaguar Health, Mytesi is a drug used to treat gastrointestinal side effects of antiretroviral therapies used by HIV patients.  Jaguar increased the price of the drug by 230% just days after it applied for an emergency use authorization for use to treat COVID-19 patients.

Duramorph (morphine sulfate) 1 mg/1 ml (10 mL 10s) - While most morphine formulations experienced modest increases in price during the early months of the pandemic, this branded product manufactured by Hikma Pharmaceuticals experienced an anomalous increase of nearly 60%.

Chloroquine phosphate 250 mg tablets - The chloroquine family of drugs has made many headlines during the pandemic, but Rising Pharmaceuticals appears to have attempted to capitalize on unsubstantiated reports of its effectiveness in treating COVID-19 patients early in the pandemic when it raised its price by 97.8%.

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