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Pharmacist Advocates For Fair Drug Pricing

A Stone County native and employee of Stone County Medical Center, Mandy Langston is on the front line of a media campaign that could make a difference in bringing life-saving drugs to rural residents.

A government program from 1992 has allowed hospitals that serve a lot of low-income patients to purchase drugs at large discounts. Unfortunately, critical access hospitals like Stone County Medical Center – which serve patients in the most remote areas – did not qualify.

The Affordable Care Act attempted to remedy this by making critical access hospitals eligible for the discount, but a pharmaceutical lobby got a last minute stipulation included in the act to prohibit the small hospitals from getting the discounts on certain drugs.

Called “orphan drugs,” these are drugs that are designated as treating rare diseases. However, some drugs designated as orphan drugs are actual crucial supplies for a hospital pharmacy, and small hospitals like SCMC are struggling to keep them in stock.

Langston is especially concerned about Activase, which is the only drug available to treat stroke and can save a life if given as quickly as possible.

Langston, who is the daughter of Jimmy and Vickie Mitchell, lost her grandfather Albert Mitchell to a stroke in 2000 [date corrected from the print version]. Activase was not available here at that time, and she feels strongly about the importance of keeping it available to patients who may be an hour away from another hospital.

“This is not an optional drug for critical access hospitals,” she said. “I started asking questions to drug companies and the FDA. I didn’t get much response,” Langston said.

She then began researching the issue on her own, speaking with staff at every one of the 29 critical access hospitals in Arkansas.

All shared her concerns and are also struggling with drug costs, but most were not interested in talking to the media.

Langston noted that White River Medical Center, which is also part of White River Health System, helps SCMC as much as possible, and the two hospitals often share drugs when it is allowed. However, the law governing the drug discounts requires each hospital to buy its own drugs for its own patients.

Gary Bebow, administrator/CEO of White River Health System, was supportive of Langston’s campaign, she said, and things really took off after she contacted a reporter with Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health news service that places stories in news outlets nationwide.

Langston was featured in a story by Sarah Jane Tribble, and the story has appeared on NPR, Huffington Post, and CNN.

Langston said her goal is to raise awareness of drug prices in general – Activase has been around for 30 years and still doesn’t have a generic – as well as showing support to U.S. legislators for a bill now in the House that would close the drug discount loophole for small hospitals.

HR2889 is the bill, and Langston encourages anyone concerned about this issue to contact Rep. Rick Crawford about supporting the bill.

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See the Sept. 27, 2017 issue for the full article by Sarah Jane Tribble.

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