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Look to other states for ideas on cutting prescription costs

September 23, 2004

By all means, the joint interim legislative committee looking at ways to cut prescription drug costs should listen to concerns expressed by some members of the West Virginia Legislature. But the first step in dealing with those issues should be to look at how other states have handled them.

The West Virginia Pharmaceutical Cost management Council this month said that one way to cut costs would be to have a state-run centralized pharmacy buy drugs in bulk from manufacturers.

Maryland has such a system, supplied by five drug companies. So does South Carolina, with eight suppliers signed up.

The council estimated it would cost $1 million to set up a central pharmacy and $625,000 a year to run it.

Del. Larry Border, R-Wood, and also a pharmacist, questioned whether the central pharmacy could really operate with only seven staff members to aid its pharmacists. He also raised the issue of what safeguards would be used in the handling of narcotics.

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The best place to start is a look at what other states have done in this regard. Both the issues raised by Border are important.

The central pharmacy not only has to save citizens money on their prescriptions, it has to save enough to justify the salaries of its personnel. And, with prescription drugs such as OxyContin being abused by many, the state must ensure that they remain under strict control.

Doing nothing is not an option. As The Associated Press reports, West Virginians spend 3 percent of their total income on prescription drugs, more than the U.S. average. Getting that figure down to the 1.9 percent national average should be the program's first goal.

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