Soaring prescription costs a financial illness for many

For one Jacksonville couple, the side effects of the mounting costs mean they are forced to make some very difficult decisions.

In living rooms and kitchens across the First Coast, families are choosing between food and vital medicine.

Our On Your Side team has joined forces with our sister stations for a nationwide investigation to get to the root of the problem.

Investigators are tracking 100 prescription drugs that are at least 70 percent more expensive now than they were just four years ago.

Heather Crawford is on your side. 11/15/2016

Side effects of needing prescription drugs

For one Jacksonville couple, the side effects of the mounting costs mean they are forced to make some very difficult decisions.

"I have fibromalgia. I have rheumatoid arthritis," says Joni Largen. She's on oxygen and takes about 20 prescription medications a day.

"I have Sjogren's syndrome, which is an auto immune disease which attacks all of your good cells in your body," Joni explains. "I have asthma; severe asthma."

Living on a fixed income, she and her husband Kenneth have had to sometimes choose between food or medicine.

"We run anywhere from $400 a month to a $1,000 a month on prescriptions," Kenneth says.

The cost of Joni's asthma inhaler, Advair, has gone up 187% in the past four years. But it's not just asthma medications that are going up.

It's everything: from drugs used to treat cancer to high blood pressure to medicine for gallstones.

"I don't think it's right to take advantage of people that are very sick," Joni says. "It's just wrong."

Raising the price by the thousands of percent

The antibiotic Doxycycline Hyclate used for bacterial infections has gone up an astonishing 1670 percent!

Denise Stiles-Yount is the owner of Preston Pharmacy in Jacksonville and says the price hikes are especially noticeable in generic brands.

"There's a drug called Ursodiol," she says. "It's for gallstones. In 2014 It was 45 cents a pill. Right now it's $5.95 a pill. There's no patent on it. Eight companies make it. You'd think competition would keep the price down but when one drug company raised it the others just followed suit."

In some cases, the cost has seemingly increased overnight. Digoxin is used to treat congestive heart failure and used to cost Stiles-Yount $9 for a thousand pills.

"I ordered it," she explains. "The next day it came in - $900. I don't mean it went from $9 to $90 to $200. It went from $9 to $900 in one ordering time."

She sees first hand the life-altering decisions families are being forced to make.

"I had two people refuse medication today," she says.

One woman is diabetic and dependent on Insulin.

"Her co-pay was $167," Stiles-Yount says. "She said I can't get it... she goes, 'I can't afford it.' She goes, 'I'm going home and will exercise more and eat less.' And that's how she's going to handle her diabetes for the next 60 days."

How does U.S. drug spending compare to other developed nations?

The Journal of Medical Association published an article that says prescription drug spending in the U.S. exceeds that of all other countries. 

The reason? Well, other countries directly negotiate drug prices on behalf of their citizens.

The U.S. doesn't.

"When you're making a profit on somebody else who can't afford to eat," Kenneth says, "there's something wrong."

"It's just basic greed," says Stiles-Yount. "That's how I see it."

The Largens - Joni and Kenneth - want drug manufacturers to change the way they do business.

An impassioned plea

"The greed of the drug manufacturers," Kenneth says. "The greed or the lack of competence in our politicians is killing the middle class of America. To see what they put us through on a daily basis is wrong." 

He says it's corporate greed and politicians not doing their job.

"Not representing the average American - which I am," he continues. "They're not. They're not doing me justice up there and it needs to change."

Joni agrees.

"I would like them to listen to someone like me or to other people that are sick," she pleas, "and lower the cost. I don't think I should have to pay over $1,000 a month for medicine that I need to live on."

WTSP provides the report. 11/15/2016 None

Other $ide Effects special reports:

Side Effects: Feeling broke to feel better

100 prescription drugs with skyrocketing costs

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