ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Frustrated by the high cost of prescription drugs these days?
So are the local folks who sell them to you.
“I’m as appalled as everybody else is,” said Lou Greenhaw, owner of Greenhaw Pharmacy in Hillsboro, which has been selling prescription drugs in the area for a half century.
Greenhaw said the higher rates she is forced to charge simply reflect the increases she has absorbed from the manufacturer.
“When people complain about paying those prices, well, I had to pay it before they did,” she said.
Adding to the frustration is that prices for those same drugs are significantly lower in Mexico and Canada.
“If you look back historically, it was probably a good thing,” she said of the disparity in pricing. “The United States was far more developed, had more drugs and a far better health-care system than anybody else in the entire world.
“So some of these countries that couldn’t afford (manufactured drugs) said ‘We’ll have the Americans pay a little bit more because they’re more affluent, and they will take care of the counterparts in other countries.’
“But that was when drugs were more affordable for everyone,” she added. “Now, drugs are not affordable. We have people in America who do without their drugs, and we’re still giving them away in other countries that need to pull their fair share.”
The rising cost of medications and the arrival of the Internet has led to the spread of mail-order prescription centers, which can sell the drugs for less money because of the quantity discounts they receive from the manufacturer.
Greenhaw said she understood the popularity of mail order with consumers from an economic perspective, but until recently she has resisted the notion not just because of the competition for her own business, but because of what she sees as inherent dangers in the system.
“The one thing that always bothered me about mail order is that mail-order places are usually put in states with the loosest regulations,” Lou said. “Second, those (orders) come through the mail and go through heat and freezing. Third, they’re put in mailboxes, where the neighbor kids have access to it.
“Plus, if you need an antibiotic, which you can get locally, and the local pharmacy doesn’t have (the customer’s mail-order prescription) on file, you can have a drug interaction-which actually happened here within the last couple of months. It could have been fatal, but the (customer) caught it at home.”
To compete with the spread of mail-order centers, Greenhaw Pharmacy has linked with a new “central-fill facility” in Kansas that offers most of advantages of mail order for consumers while eliminating the drawbacks.
The new system provides the prescription at the lower mail-order price, but dispenses it through the local pharmacy. Greenhaw Pharmacy receives a fee for its part of the transaction.
“It seems to solve all the problems,” she said. “If you can’t beat them, join them I guess may be the way of looking at it.”
She said the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs has affected her business in other ways, too.
“Most people are pretty shocked at the dollar volume that we do here,” she said. “I order in anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 worth of drugs a month-about $30,000 to $40,000 a week.
“Every year we have to increase the insurance because the cost of the inventory keeps going up, up, up,” she said.
“It’s not so much that we’re having more stuff brought in, it’s that the stuff we have is so much more expensive.”