About AIDS

Law closing in on serostim abuse

What Medicaid or AIDS Drug Assistance Programs consumer would sell his AIDS drugs on the black market? Apparently, lots of them, especially in California, New York, New Jersey – and closer to home, in Houston. Now, there's a major push to weed out the diversion of one drug, in particular, the incredibly expensive Serostim.

Serostim is used by people with AIDS to combat wasting. It's a bioengineered form of somatropin that works to increase lean body mass. A black market has developed, though, because it is used – illegally – by bodybuilders as a steroid for rapid bulking up.

Serostim is perhaps the most expensive drug used in AIDS treatment. Only three months' worth, at $21,000, is approved by the FDA, but some patients manage to get continued on it for a full year, at $80,000! And who's footing the bill? Overwhelmingly, Medicaid and the state ADAPs, which provide medications for the poor.

The catch is, these patients frequently are not using the drug; they're selling it at $1,000 to $2,000 for a week's pop. Medicaid alone paid $74 million for Serostim last year, and much, perhaps most, of that was diverted to illegal use.

Serono, the Swiss manufacturer, has attempted to put in place measures to prevent diversion, but it's a broad problem, and they've only been partially successful. Now, however, law enforcement agencies nationwide, including the FBI, are going after violators.

About time! The ADAPs are desperately in need of just over $100 million dollars this year to stave off crisis. Consider: If just the money wasted on phony Serostim prescriptions had been devoted instead to appropriate use, poor people needing medications wouldn't be in quite the fix they are presently.

Diversion of medications, whether Serostim for bodybuilders or Sustiva for club kids, effectively takes lifesaving medication from someone else, because the health care delivery system of the U.S. doesn't provide nearly enough of the resources to cover everything. To those who would sell their meds for frivolous use by others, we say shame! To law officers trying to catch them, good luck!

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