Local pharmacist hopes to help people save on medicine for pets

Local pharmacist hopes people can save on medicine for pets

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A trip to the vet with a sick pet often leads to a fear of not having enough money to fix the problem. A local pharmacist hopes his experience can save people time and a lot of money.

Adam Rice owns Spartan Pharmacy and its three locations so he's given plenty of interviews talking about medications and vaccines. But he never thought his charcoal lab Shadie would lead to his new mission to spread knowledge about pet pills.

Shadie just turned three and despite her shaved patches, you'd never know she was just knocking on death's door.

"She's still on the mend but she's finally my Shadie again and she's a good girl," Rice said -- a good girl who got very sick towards the end of February out of the blue. 

"She was diagnosed with a condition called IMHA or immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, which is the immune system attacking her red blood cells which carry oxygen just in the same way an organ transplant patient, their immune system would attack an organ from another person," Adam Rice said. 

Adam Rice says Shadie tried all the usual meds to suppress her immune system -- prednisone, mycophenolate, leflunomide -- but nothing worked. 

"It got to the point we were in and out of emergency vet every seven to 10 days getting a blood transfusion for her while we were waiting for these medicines to take effect," Rice said.

Rice owns Spartan Pharmacy so he's lucky to know more about meds than the average dog owner. And he had personal experience on his side.   

"Oddly enough, my previous lab, Bailey, who was a chocolate lab, had the same condition and the one drug that finally worked for Bailey was cyclosporine and the vets had not tried that yet," Rice said.

Novartis created the human version of the drug cyclosporine and the company also funded an FDA-approved trial for its use in animals, meaning vets must first dispense the animal version called Atopica.

"And that is only available in the brand name form and it's about $500 a box so that would have cost me $1,000 a month to keep her on that medicine and really who can afford that, right?" Rice said.

Rice couldn't, so instead of putting Shadie down he asked: why can't he get a prescription for the much cheaper human version? Veterinarian Dr. Steve Gross wrote the script to save Shadie's life and says he's doing it more and more these days. 

"Some of the antibiotics sometimes are a lot less expensive at a general pharmacy than they are at the veterinarian and unfortunately, especially small places like us, we don't have the ability to get the bulk discounts," Gross said. 

If pet parents can find cheaper workarounds for vet medications, he thinks it helps the pets in the long run.  

"If we can save a few dollars on medications, that might be a few dollars that we might be able to run some bloodwork that we otherwise wouldn't have been able to do or take some X-rays that we wouldn't have been able to do, so there's more diagnostic care we can do if people don't need to worry about 'oh my gosh my medications going to be $300,'" Gross said.

Shadie started cyclosporine and started improving rapidly. Rice shared his experience on social media, sharing it on his pharmacy's Facebook page, hoping to educate. 

"Now had these vets known that there's a generic version of this cyclosporine that's the human form, that only costs $50 a box. If they had started that off the get-go, it could have saved me $10,000, $12,000," Rice said. 

Keep in mind, pharmacists will want to know if the medication you're filling is for a dog or cat. Make sure pharmacists never compound a medication, because animals can't tolerate certain sweeteners. And always ask the vet for a cheaper alternative or a human medication alternative.

"He ordered them himself for his dogs under our direction with the appropriate milligrams and times per day and everything, then he said, 'Look, this stuff can get really expensive, I'm willing if anyone else has this problem send them to me and I'll take care of them' and we've sent a few people that way," Gross said. 

Because of what Rice went through with Shadie, Spartan Pharmacy is now offering any animal diagnosed with IMHLA cyclosporine at cost, just $50 a box, 10 times cheaper than the animal alternative. It's a cost-saving and life-saving move Dr. Gross thinks all vets will get behind.  

"Every single veterinarian that I know around here is in it for the right reasons. They're in it to try to help not only the animals but the people that come with them," Gross said.

The symptoms of IMHA include a steady decline in your pet's energy. You might notice they can only go a fraction of the distance on your daily walk and they're panting heavily at the end of it.

Check your pet's gums and tongue. They should be pink, not gray, showing that blood is circulating successfully.

And the telltale sign is thin, watery blood that you'll notice immediately as soon as your animal gets a blood test.

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