Soaring cost of military drugs

Jeremy Schwartz, “Soaring cost of military drugs could hurt budget“, American-Statesman,Dec. 29, 2012

Last year, the Pentagon spent more on pills, injections and vaccines than it did on Black Hawk helicopters, Abrams tanks, Hercules C-130 cargo planes and Patriot missiles — combined.

Some of the prescription drugs that have fueled the military’s skyrocketing pharmaceutical budget are the same ones that have medicated the civilian world over the past decade. Since 2002, the Department of Defense has spent more than $5 billion on Lipitor, Plavix, Advair, Nexium and Singulair.

Rather than a reflection of the drugs needed to treat wounded troops, the top-selling prescriptions signal an increase in aging military retirees covered by the military’s health program, Tricare, with drugs for arthritis, osteoporosis and diabetes costing billions. The Department of Defense also spent more than $380 million on erectile dysfunction drugs and $238 million on testosterone therapy drugs over the decade.

But the military drug purchases also paint a picture of a fighting force increasingly reliant on antidepressants, psychotropic drugs and powerful narcotic painkillers that critics call dangerous and that have been involved in a growing number of prescription drug overdoses. The military spent at least $2.7 billion on antidepressants and more than $1.6 billion on opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin and hydrocodone over the past decade. More than $507 million was spent on the sleeping pill Ambien and its generic equivalents.

The details come from an unprecedented American-Statesman analysis of nearly every individual drug purchase made by the Department of Defense since 2002. The paper’s analysis also showed that many drug manufacturers saw their revenue from military sales soar over a decade that featured two wars and a large influx of beneficiaries covered by Tricare, the military’s health program.

They were led by giant Pfizer, with more than $8 billion in sales from the Department of Defense since 2002. Abbott’s sales jumped nearly 300 percent and Novartis more than doubled its military sales to around $400 million in 2011, according to data provided by the military.

In one sense, the drug analysis is but another reminder of skyrocketing health care costs. Veterans groups say paying for the health needs of America’s fighting force and retirees is a cost of war and part of the nation’s moral debt to its troops.

Yet experts say that the rapidly rising cost of health care for active and retired service members — the overall military health budget has nearly doubled since 2002 — could imperil the nation’s safety by potentially siphoning off money that needs to be spent for training and weapon systems.

High-priced specialty drugs, in particular, will continue to drive military drug spending, predicted Jim Wilson, a University of Texas College of Pharmacy professor and former head of the Army’s pharmacy programs.

“They will just eat your budget alive,” Wilson said.

Department of Defense drug spending has ballooned by more than 123 percent since 2002, from $3 billion to $6.8 billion in 2011, according to Tricare officials. That outpaces by nearly double the overall pharmaceutical sales in the United States, which grew about 67 percent over that time, according to annual reports from IMS Health, which tracks sales for drug companies.

“If we don’t address it soon, it may harm our national security in the long run,” the centrist think tank Third Way wrote in a February report about ballooning defense health budgets. “It will also impact operational effectiveness and threaten health care benefits for active duty troops and their families.”

Read the full article here.