More MS news articles for October 2000

Costly prescription drugs out of reach for many Canadians

WebPosted Thu Oct 19 15:07:22 2000

TORONTO - The rise in prescription drug prices is leaving relief beyond the reach of many ailing Canadians.

Health Canada doesn't cover the price of many new medications, and provinces don't pay for many promising drugs going through Health Canada's approval process.

This leaves some patients paying thousands of dollars out of their own pockets for the drugs or going without.

Rebecca MacDonald pays $17,000 a year for a drug called Enbrel. It's a powerful new arthritis treatment currently moving through the drug approval process.

She was bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis a year ago, but after taking the drug, MacDonald says she is vigorous and energetic.

"I don't think about it," says MacDonald. "I would rather spend it on something else, but given the circumstances, I have no option."

In contrast, Rosette Comella decided to forgo Enbrel so she could spend the money on her children's tuition instead. Comella's hands are nearly crippled by arthritis.

"What do I say? No, you can't have a university degree. I need it for my drugs. What do you do?" Comella says.

The list of expensive new drugs and treatments is growing. The list includes Aricept, a drug to treat Alzheimer's disease, priced at $1,800 a year; Betaseron, a multiple sclerosis drug costs up to $50,000 a year; and a new pump to help diabetics do away with insulin injections costs $5,000.

Carol Shack, a nurse in Winnipeg, cashed in some pension funds to make a down payment on one of the new insulin pumps. Now, her co-workers are helping her raise the balance.

"The government is saying 'Yeah, that's great. You pay for it and we'll reap the benefits in the long run.'"

Dr. Joel Lexchin of Toronto Western Hospital is a critic of the pharmaceutical industry. He says the problem is getting worse.

"In 10 or 15 years, instead of one or two of these products, you may be seeing a dozen . . . and the problem is going to be become more acute," says Lexchin.

Some provinces and private drug plans will pay for the costly drugs, but many Canadians are still left out. Those who run provincial drug benefit programs say there's a limit to what they can afford.