Valeant's Steep Price Hikes Continue With Lead Poisoning Drug

The cost of an intravenous drug used to treat lead poisoning has skyrocketed after a 2700% price increase by Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Experts worry that its high price and the lack of alternatives will place it out of reach for hospitals that need it. This is not the first time Valeant has been criticized for its price-raising practices.

The cost of an intravenous drug used to treat lead poisoning has skyrocketed after a 2700% price increase by Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Experts worry that its high price and the lack of alternatives will place it out of reach for hospitals that need it.

A package of 5 Calcium EDTA vials is now listed at $26,927, up from its $950 list price when Valeant acquired the drug in 2013. It is regarded as the gold standard for treating potentially fatal cases of lead poisoning, so hospitals must keep it on hand despite its high cost and short shelf life.

Hospitals usually keep a small quantity in stock because severe lead poisoning is relatively uncommon, resulting in 50 serious cases in 2015. However, experts say that many hospitals find it tough to afford the purchase of just a few doses.

“Hospital pharmacy budgets are not unlimited, and this is the kind of drug nobody wants to keep around because there isn’t a lot of use,” Lewis Nelson, MD, chair of the department of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told STAT News.

Nelson said the high cost puts inner city hospitals at a disadvantage, since urban areas see more lead poisoning cases but generally have more limited resources. According to the CDC, 11.5% of children living in older housing in large urban areas have elevated blood lead levels, compared to 4.4% of all children.

A company spokesperson defended the price hike, telling STAT News that due to the drug’s “relatively limited shelf life, the company takes substantial carrying cost risk and has written down at its own expense approximately half of purchased quantities in the past few years.” He also pointed out that the company provides rebates and discounts that are not reflected in the list price.

This is not the first time Valeant has been criticized for its price-raising practices. The prices for 2 heart drugs were increased by 525% and 212% on the day Valeant acquired them in 2015. After widespread backlash, the drug maker promised to provide discounts to hospitals, but months later many said they had never received the rebates.

When representatives introduced a bill in Congress that would require drug makers to justify a price raise of more than 10%, Valeant raised the prices of 3 eye drugs by exactly 9.9% each, apparently trying to evade the scrutiny a double-digit percentage price hike would have faced.