$1,159.64 is a lot of money for most people.
It’s enough to be your mortgage, the down payment on a new car, the amount you need to finally pay off your credit card, or in some cases (like mine) — your entire clothing budget for a year.
For many of us, this would be an impossible monthly amount after paying living expenses like rent or mortgage, electricity, insurance, phone, groceries, etc.
What would you do if this were the extra cash you needed to maintain your health?
In a perfect world, your health wouldn’t come at such added expense.
For some, this has been your only option offered — forced into financial distress in order to sustain some semblance of health and further encouraged to stay there by fear of losing it all.
Here’s the catch…
This extra sacrifice might be all for naught. These folks maybe over paying for something not benefiting their health.
And what is worse, it is possible they could get better results with something that is a tiny fraction of the cost.
I’ll share a specific example in a moment…
$1,159.64 is the cost for a 30-day supply of second highest grossing pharmaceutical in America. 1
To put this in perspective, if you were looking for a drug worth its weight in gold — this one regularly surpasses the value of gold per milligram by 15 and a½ times.
So what could this drug be treating?
Cancer? AIDS? Alzheimer’s?
The second-highest pharmaceutical sales belong to Abilify, an anti-psychotic used to treat schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia by the Numbers
From May 2014 to June 2015, Abilify pulled in a grand total of $7,238,451,779 in sales.2
Over $7 billion?!
Even at the gouging rate it costs to fill a prescription, are that many Americans diagnosed with schizophrenia to make such a huge number in sale?
As it turns out, there aren’t.
Only 1 percent of Americans have schizophrenia.3
OK, let’s crunch some numbers real quick.
So there are roughly 320 million Americans and last year there were roughly 8.8 million prescriptions written for Abilify.
8.8/320 = 2.75 percent.
That’s almost three times amount of people with a diagnosis is indicated for — meaning almost triple the profits for Big Pharma.
Maybe it doesn’t seem like a lot, but that’s millions of people taking a prescription that might be inappropriate for them.
What disorder are these millions of people getting a prescription for if only a third of patients are diagnosed with schizophrenia?
Plus, there are other effective psychiatric medications on the market at a tiny fraction of the cost.
One of these low-cost options we will talk about in a bit.
Who is approving this alarming rate of prescription?
The FDA, of course.
There Is Such Thing as Too Much Approval
The FDA has approved Abilify for uses beyond its treatment of schizophrenia. Since 2002, the FDA has approved Abilify for “off label” treatment of bipolar mania, major depressive disorder and autism.4
Wait a second…
A drug specifically intended to treat psychotic behaviors such as hallucinations, disorganized thoughts, and the inability to distingiuish reality from delusions is now a treatment for depression?
And it’s being given to children as young as 6 with autism?
That seems a bit unnecessary.
Also, people afflicted with bipolar disorder can swing between manic and depressive states — changing symptoms very quickly. The key to effective medication management in bipolar is to stabilize the frequency of mood swings. Taking a medication for just one of the cycles seems like a worthless intervention.
Plus, how are patients supposed to end medications between cycles?
So here are Big Pharma’s and the FDA’s answers: Add Abilify as an adjunct therapy to the already prescribed medications for these disorders.
Adjunct therapy means adding a treatment to the primary treatment in order to increase the effectiveness of the primary treatment.
Western medicine often makes use of adjunct therapy. For example, most cancer patients undergo more than one treatment, i.e., surgery and chemotherapy.
Adjunct therapy can work in some cases, especially with mood disorders. Patients can benefit greatly from adjunct therapy when the treatments are appropriate and affordable.
During my professional mental health experience, I saw many cases where medications worked together to decrease symptoms but were not as effective alone.
To refer back to the bipolar example, it was common for patients to take a mood stabilizer with an anti-depressant.
And for many people suffering from a mood disorder, adjunct therapy may work as well. Sometimes two medications are better than one, especially if it means preventing suicide.
The issue isn’t the use of adjunct therapy, it’s the high-priced prescriptions indicated for it.
I’m not the only one who thinks adding an $1159.64 prescription to mood disorder treatment seems a little greedy.
Dr. Richard A. Friedman stated in an article in The New York Times about the over prescribing of antipsychotics:
“If a patient has not gotten better on an antidepressant, for instance, just taking it for a longer time or taking a higher dose could be very effective. There is also very strong evidence that adding a second antidepressant from a different chemical class is an effective and cheaper strategy — without having to resort to antipsychotic medication.” 5
Your prescription costs shouldn’t force you to take out a line of credit. There are cheaper and effective medications available that are likely better suited for a diagnosis.
One of these options maybe hiding in your water.
Studies have shown a long used psychiatric medication and a natural element is still one of the most effective and cheapest options for the treatment of mood disorders.
What could be a natural and functional treatment?
While lithium might conjure up thoughts of 1970s psych wards filled with zombie-like patients so medicated they can’t even speak for some, this is far from the truth.
Referenced for psychiatric uses since the 1870s, lithium continues to be a proven mood stabilizer.6 It can help to even out moods and decrease impulsive and dangerous thoughts.
The journal BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) published a study concluding:
“Lithium is an effective treatment for reducing the risk of suicide in people with mood disorders. Lithium may exert its antisuicidal effects by reducing relapse of mood disorder, but additional mechanisms should also be considered because there is some evidence that lithium decreases aggression and possibly impulsivity, which might be another mechanism mediating the antisuicidal effect.” 7
In fact, some studies in communities with higher levels of lithium in drinking water have even shown a decrease in crime rates and suicide.
I am not suggesting that lithium should be the new fluoride — it’s just interesting data.
At $32.12 for a 100 -tablet supply of the highest strength, lithium is an affordable and accessible choice for many people. 8
And here is the kicker — many pharmacies offer lithium generics for as little as $4.9 The more affordable choice is obvious in this case.
But sometimes the most affordable and most effective prescription is not as apparent.
Profitability Over Health – the American Way
While the Abilify- lithium case is mental health specific, it proves Big Pharma and the FDA are not interested in saving you money or providing the best medication options for you.
Adjunct therapy is an option for most medical arenas. It may already be affecting your treatment and your wallet.
If you find yourself with a prescription costing you more than you can afford or more than you feel is fair, see if you can find a more affordable solution.
Generics are a go-to choice for saving money on prescriptions but often aren’t that cheap. The generic for Abilify is still over $500 with a coupon.10 That’s a savings, but it still doesn’t put the drug in the affordable range for most of us.
If adjunct therapy becomes a reality for you, do your homework:
- Look up the medications and find out what the FDA has approved it for.
- See if you can find any studies on the medication. PubMed is helpful for this.
- Check the prices.
Once you have evaluated all of these factors, you can talk to your doctor if you feel a change in your prescriptions is need. Communication is the key to good healthcare, let your doctor know your concerns — this is the only way to explore different options.
If you have any questions or comments, please write me! firstname.lastname@example.org
Managing editor, Living Well Daily
P.S. Would you like to hear more about the health benefits of taking lithium at a low over-the-counter dose? Do you have a personal experience with expensive prescription therapy you would like to talk about? Contact me: email@example.com
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