Valeant hikes price of drug for assisted suicides

As California moves toward becoming the fourth state to legalize physician-assisted suicide, the company that owns the right to the drug most patients use to legally end their lives has doubled the price, National Public Radio (NPR) reported.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals owns the rights to Seconal, which was developed some 80 years ago as a sleeping pill. An overdose causes a quick and painless death. A lethal dose currently retails for about $3,000. In 2009, it was just $200, according to NPR. The company doubled the price of the drug just as California was moving to legalize physician assisted suicide, the article noted. The statute covering assisted suicides goes into effect in June.

"It's just pharmaceutical company greed," David Grube, M.D., a family doctor in Oregon, told NPR. Oregon was the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the late 1990s. Aside from California, only Washington, Montana and Vermont have made it legal for physicians to assist patients with suicide. The four states' combined population is about one-third of California's population.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals has come under intense criticism for acquiring the rights of old-line drugs and greatly increasing their prices. The company's finances and stock have been foundering in recent months.

Ever-increasing drug prices--and accompanying shortages--has put pressure on hospitals regarding the clinical decisions that have been made. And Massachusetts, a leader in healthcare reform, is examining the possibility of a first-in-the-nation cap on drug prices.

Meanwhile, the practices of companies that manufacture and distribute cancer drugs is costing the healthcare sector as much as $3 billion a year.

To learn more:
- read the NPR article