To the editor of THE EAGLE:
I visit the Berkshires often and will retire here in a few years. Born and raised in Connecticut, I love this part of the country. It’s home.
For a few more years, though, we must live in New Jersey, as that’s where my husband works. Our doctors are in New Jersey. When I need a prescription there, I can tell my pharmacist when I want a brand name drug. I don’t need permission from anyone to do this. I just need to pay more money, as the cost of the brand is more than the generic and insurance doesn’t usually cover the brand.
As a patient advocate for the Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics I learned about medications -- brands, generics, approved and unapproved (compounded). I’ve seen the workload the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) carries in this country and read of ongoing problems with drugs manufactured in China and India. (New York Times February 14, "Medicines made in India set off safety worries.")
I haven’t any confidence taking a drug manufactured in either country. I always ask where a drug is manufactured and try to find drugs made where FDA has the capacity and legal authority to perform regular inspections. I don’t think my concerns are unreasonable. It’s my body and my money.
Last weekend, I came to Massachusetts and attempted to fill a prescription at a chain drug store. The only generic the store had on hand was from India. The pharmacist told me the state would not allow her to give me the brand drug unless my doctor wrote "brand required." This despite the fact I’m the one taking the pill and I’m the one paying the higher price. And on top of that, my insurance is from New Jersey, not Massachusetts.
I’m hoping to find some answers. Why do patients here need permission from others to make potentially life-saving health care decisions? Why are patients here limited to generics that may be from India or China, countries proven to have a questionable regulatory process? Simply put: why can’t you buy the brand drug if you’re willing to pay for it yourself?
Last year a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy distributed contaminated drugs to states all around the country. Hundreds of people were made ill and many died. Most of those patients hadn’t any idea where their drug came from and that the drug was not FDA-approved. Not exactly the same issue, but exactly the same problem.
We don’t know enough about the medications we are taking. As patients, we need to ask more questions of our doctors, pharmacists and legislators. We are the only ones who have the right to decide what to put in our bodies. But we can’t make those decisions unless we have all the facts.
We can’t assume the system will keep us safe -- in fact, recent history shows it can’t.
Mill River, Mass.
The writer is the retired director of patient advocacy for the Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA).