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J&J Drug Is a Wash for Schizophrenia but Worked Wonders on Taxpayers

A new study found that Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ) long-acting schizophrenia medicine Risperdal Consta may be no better than a regimen of cheaper pills, but the drug sure works wonders on taxpayers' wallets. It's the most expensive antipsychotic on the market and under special Medicare and Medicaid rules is fully reimbursed by the taxpayer even when the patient is under 65 years old.

Risperdal Consta costs $7,000 a year per patient, according to Bloomberg, and is J&J's third best-selling drug, raking in $1.5 billion in sales last year. It was approved in late 2003, based on the idea that schizophrenics would be do better if they only had to receive a once-weekly injection from a doctor than if they were required to take a pill every day.

In a lucky coincidence for J&J, the rules for Medicare and Medicaid -- which usually only cover people over 65 -- were changed in early 2006 to cover schizophrenics of any age.

This was hugely significant for public health -- about 1 in 100 Americans are schizophrenics -- but also for J&J. Medicare covers the full price of injectable drugs, and the law prevents Medicare from negotiating the price. Had Risperdal Consta been a pill, patients would have had to pay part of the price themselves.

The NEJM study suggests that the seven years of taxpayer-expensed Risperdal Consta prescriptions reimbursed by Medicare were a wash. But don't worry about J&J, it already has a new antipsychotic coming out to replace Risperdal Consta. You do not win a prize for guessing that the drug, Invega Sustenna, is another injection treatment. It's enough to give taxpayers paranoid delusions.

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Image by Flickr user TheDarkThing, CC.
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