State probes COVID drugs price spikes

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A New York state agency has opened an investigation into price gouging of six drugs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Financial Services’ new Office of Pharmacy Benefits sent a formal demand for an explanation to six drug makers under a provision of state insurance law, according to an announcement Thursday from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The agency is authorized to collect more information, including calling witnesses and issuing subpoenas. According to Cuomo’s office, the investigation does not mean the price spikes were unlawful or unjustified but that the Department of Financial Services has determined a closer look is warranted. It could lead, however, to referral to other legal authorities.

The drugs involved and explanations from the agency:

Ascor, 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, one of two corticosteroids to be investigated, a generic formulation produced by Cipla USA Inc. increased in price by more than 1,350% 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, a corticosteroid and a branded generic drug manufactured by Nubratori Inc., which announced a price increase of 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, manufactured by Jaguar Health and 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: 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: 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%, according to the agency.

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