March 31, 1997 in Nation/World

Cost Of Wonder Drugs Has Crippled Budgets Of Washington, Idaho Aids Programs

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Washington and Idaho have drug programs that try to keep AIDS patients from falling through the cracks.

These wonder drugs are expensive, often costing thousands of dollars a month.

Advocates say they don’t want anyone to miss out on treatment breakthroughs because the drugs are so costly. The state programs cover patients who lack medical insurance or aren’t sufficiently covered. Their budgets and spending have spiked since protease inhibitors.

Washington’s HIV/AIDS Prescription Drug Program saw its monthly expenses quadruple in a couple of months.

The program spent $50,000 on 500 clients in December 1995, when the FDA approved the first protease inhibitor. In February 1996, the program spent $205,000 on 1,066 clients.

“We’re broke,” said Raleigh Watts, director of HIV/AIDS client services for the state. “It’s an increase because the drugs are expensive, and more clients need the treatment.”

Watts expects lawmakers to approve another $1.2 million, enough to keep the program running until June.

The program is receiving $2 million from the federal government for next year’s budget - three times as much as a year ago. Another $8.7 million is needed from the state over the next two years, Watts said.

The Idaho program deals with a smaller AIDS problem. It spent $64,344 on 57 clients in 1995, compared with $138,606 on 77 clients in 1996.

Those numbers don’t include protease inhibitors. The program just decided to fund the protease inhibitor Crixivan.

Since February, 16 people have signed up for the drug.

Traditional cocktail therapy has recommended that patients start out on no drugs, or maybe only one or two. Two-drug therapy runs about $500 a month.

But new research is indicating that patients should head straight for triple-drug therapy.

“It’s becoming more and more apparent that a two-drug regimen fails,” said Dr. John Wallace of Spokane. “Why not just start off with the most powerful regimen?”

That regimen runs from $1,000 to $1,500 a month.

And then there are the other drugs that both prevent and treat opportunistic infections.

“The (expense) curve has continued to go up,” Watts said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo; Graphic: How protease inhibitors stop the AIDS virus

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