Pinworm prescription jumps from $3 to up to $600 a pill

Parents, doctors angry over drug price gouging

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It's something a lot of kids get, but it's also easily cured. One single prescription pill can stop a contagious case of common pinworm, ringworm or even roundworm. It used to cost only a few dollars per pill, but that price has skyrocketed.

Dr. Saman Soleymani treats a lot of kids at Avecina Medical, and therefore, he sees a decent amount with worms -- mostly pinworm, which is the most common type of intestinal worm infection. He says the treatment is easy.

You take one little pill of a prescription drug called mebendazole, which is sold under the name brand Emverm, and the worms are usually gone. So when Soleymani prescribed it recently, he was shocked.

"The pharmacy called me about an hour later saying the treatment is about $1,800 and it's not covered by pretty much any insurance company," said Soleymani. 

Soleymani realized that prescription, which used to cost patients about $3 a pill, now costs anywhere from $500 to $600 for that same pill.

"I literally had to ask twice. I'm like, 'You must be joking! There's no way that this medication is $1,800,'" he told News4Jax.

It's not a joke, in fact, it's something pharmacist Gary Roberts sees happen a lot.

"The end loser is the patient," said Roberts, owner of Roberts' South Bank Pharmacy.

Roberts says prices usually spike because of supply and demand or due to research and development. But in some cases, he says prices multiply because there's nothing stopping companies from charging what they want.

"How much profit is too much profit? And that's the question that needs to be asked," Roberts said.

While there are new steps from President Donald Trump's administration to prevent steep increases in drug prices, right now, it's perfectly legal and there are no regulations in place to stop companies from charging what they want.

Mebendazole is just one price-hike example, but in this case, there could be a specific reason: mebendazole could help fight cancer.

"As soon as there was some data that potentially this class of medication can have anti-cancer benefits, that's where literally the sale happened and the prices went up 40,000 percent, you know, so,  they have to be linked," Soleymani told News4Jax.

He's referring to clinical trials at Johns Hopkins University. By accident, mebendazole was found to possibly stop brain cancer in mice. While no one will tell News4Jax on the record that's the reason for the price hike, here's what we do know:

  • 2012: Research began to try and prove mebendazole could stop cancer.
  • 2013: Amedra Pharmaceuticals bought marketing rights to mebendazole.
  • 2015: Impax Laboratories acquired all the rights to the drug from Amedra

While it's not clear at what point any of the companies knew about the cancer research, when we asked why the price is so high, Impax spokesman Mark Donohue had this response:

Emverm [the name brand for mebendazole] is the only FDA-approved prescription treatment for pinworm, with a 95 percent cure rate in a single tablet."

Donohue said he couldn't comment on the cancer research but said the company offers a savings program on Emverm's website. (You can access that savings here.)

"When a medication's been around for 40, 50 years, and that's available everywhere else for pennies on the dollar, and you suddenly charge $500 a pill because you found a new benefit, it just looks kind of unethical," said Soleymani.

"I feel like it's ridiculous and it's so common amongst children," said Jacksonville parent Ebony Mills. "That amount is ridiculous, and it's so contagious. It's highly contagious and it can go around families. 

While there's a huge risk of buying drugs online and out of the country, Soleymani is doing something he is totally against and thought he would never do.

"As a physician, I have to tell patients, 'Hey, here's a prescription and order it from an online pharmacy, or literally buy it off of eBay. You can go to eBay and buy the same medications for $10,'" he admits he's telling his patients. "But what choice do we have?"

"That's absurd, especially because you want relief and want the symptoms gone right away," said Mills. "Who wants to wait for Amazon, eBay or whatever to send it to you 3- to 5-day shipping?" 

There are several over-the-counter medications, like Reese's Pinworm Medicine, that costs about $8.50, that can be used to treat pinworms, but Soleymani says the side effects are an issue -- especially with small kids.

"Vomiting, diarrhea, possible neurotoxicity, so it's not really a great replacement, I mean there is an option, but it's not even close," Soleymani said.

"It's not fair at all," said Jacksonville parent Connie Deshotel. "All kinds of drugs, even grown people's drugs are $300 to $400 a prescription and I can't even afford that.  It's not fair."

If a patient has a prescription for mebendazole, Soleymani says that patient is 100 percent within his or her legal rights to get that medication online and from another country.

Soleymani recommends you talk to your doctor first before going online, but says an online pharmacy, like, can save you a lot of money. 

With the prices we found while searching the internet, even If you paid for overnight shipping, you're still saving hundreds of dollars.