Following the passage of California's right-to-die/death with dignity legislation last fall, a pharmaceutical company that acquired the most popular drug of choice for the process doubled the price of it for patients to $3,000. As KQED explains, that drug, Seconal, has no competition from generics, thus after Valeant Pharmaceuticals acquired the rights to produce the drug in February 2015, they saw fit to hike the price from its previous, already inflated price of $1,500 for a lethal dose.
The drug, commonly known as secobarbital, dates to the 1930's when it was created as a sleeping pill. It fell out of favor, however, because of patients dying from taking too much. Doctors in Oregon, however, where right-to-die legislation has existed for almost two decades, have come to favor it as the most gentle manner in which to induce a voluntary death in terminally ill patients. Says Dr. David Grube of Oregon, "It works very quickly and very gently,” Grube says. “People fall asleep with no complications. It’s a very gentle passing."
Grube remembers, however, when lethal doses of 100 pills of Seconal only cost $200 just seven years ago, in 2009. That price has risen quickly, shooting up to $1,500 last year, and now $3,000. And he adds that companies' typical justification for such high prices, which usually have to do with steep research costs, don't apply here when the drug is over 80 years old and simple to produce.
Other drug-makers may step in now to make a generic since the drug went off patent in the early 1990's, and now that the market for it has grown in a state as large as California.
But in the meantime, Valeant Pharmaceuticals reaps the benefits of their greed at the expense of terminally ill people and their families.
California's Medicaid program and most private insurers plan to cover the drug, however there is another, three-drug cocktail that can be ordered from a compounding company for about $400, per KQED, for those who aren't covered by insurance.