Accusations of Tamiflu price gouging

November 19, 2009 5:46:01 PM PST
Allegations of price gouging by pharmacies trying to deal with, and take advantage of, a shortage of Tamiflu, the over-the-counter drug used to treat the flu, both seasonal and H1N1. There are reports that some pharmacies are now charging up to $130 for a bottle of Tamiflu.

Colonial Druggist in Westport closes at 6:00 p.m., but for the last couple of weeks, pharmacist Russell Levine has been at work until midnight.

He is grinding capsules of Tamiflu into a liquid version. That's the kind given to children.

"They don't recommend children take the capsule because of a choking problem, and some children just won't take it," he said.

Roche Pharmeceuticals does manufacture liquid Tamiflu, but has recently focused production on capsules. That means the process called compounding has fallen to individual pharmacies, a time consuming process that some national chains are not doing.

"I have grandkids of my own and I can appreciate the anxiety that parents are going through," Levine said.

High demand and low supply can result in price gouging. Now officials in two states want to why the cost of liquid Tamiflu varies so widely. One study found the cost as low as $43, but as high as $130.

"There is nothing we've seen or been told so far that would justify charging three times as much as one pharmacy what another pharmacy does, especially when we are talking about a medicine that is a matter of life or death," said Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut's attorney general.

Out of pocket costs also vary since people have different insurance co-pays. Levine says he would consider it gouging if someone charged extra for compounding -- something he doesn't do. He says the whole thing could be avoided if the drug company just stepped up production.

Until then, the compounding will continue.