After 50 years, Pharmacist, Says Drug Prices 'Through the Roof!'



Seventy-three-year-old Leonard L. Edloe, a pharmacist of 50 years and pastor of a predominately Black church in Middlesex County, Va., knows the personal and professional sides of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes well. He also knows the astronomical costs of prescription medications and the related financial struggles.


His father—also named Leonard L. Edloe—opened the first of their four family-owned pharmacies in 1948. But he was only 65 when he came home from work one day, sat down, had a sandwich and a beer and then died of a massive heart attack. It was a major emotional blow to lose his father and mentor that way. But then Edloe's sister died at 60 and his brother at 54 - also both of heart attacks.


"I had to get out," he said sternly, reflecting on his now determined self-care through exercise and healthy eating. "I'm 73 now."


For decades, Edloe has been a prominent household family name in Richmond, Va. where his father's first pharmacy was established. Since his family was upper middle class, he acknowledged they had no problem paying for prescription medication. But given his father's legacy and his own community service through his profession and dedication to help people in need, he is known for being on the cutting edge of the struggle to establish health equity. That includes exploring ways to make prescription drugs more affordable and accessible to all.


"The pricing has gone through the roof," he said in an interview. "I mean, insulin - a month's supply for some people - is $600." That's $7,200 a year. "Even the generic pricing has gone up," he points out. “That has become worse because so many of the drugs are imported. Seventy-five percent of the drugs in the United States have an ingredient that's made in China, India or Germany."


Edloe explained that "Because there's no control over pricing in the United States, they can basically charge what they want to; whereas in other countries, the government decides."


As a former long-time member of Medicaid HMO Virginia Premier Health Plan's board – Edloe pointed out that the drug used to treat Hepatitis C costs $1,000 a pill. But in Egypt, it is $1 a pill.


Edloe has expressed these concerns vehemently over the years in various leadership roles, including as chair of the Virginia Heart Association for the Mid-Atlantic Region; president of the American Pharmacists Association Foundation, and board member of the Virginia Commonwealth University Health Systems Authority.



"My blood pressure medicine for myself has tripled in price. I was paying $15 for three months. Now it's $45," he said. "Fortunately, that's with my insurance."


For people who lack health insurance, medicine for hypertension can cost upwards of $300-$600 a year, which, can be difficult to manage financially along with paying for other medications and bills. "So, it's real serious," Edloe concluded.


Community health workers and researchers around the country have long recognized the increasing costs of prescription drugs and the difficult choices some people must make to afford them.


An article in Harvard Medical School's Harvard Health Publishing, titled, "Millions of Adults Skip Medications Due to Their High Costs” highlights findings from a national survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics:


  • Eight percent of adult Americans don’t take their medicines as prescribed because they can not afford them.

  • Among adults under 65, sixpercent who had private insurance still skipped medicines to save money.

  • 10 percent of people who rely on Medicaid skipped their medicines.

  • Of those who are not insured, 14 percent skipped their medications because of cost.

  • Among the nation’s poorest adults— those with incomes well below the federal poverty level — nearly 14 percent “did not take medications as prescribed to save money.”


Those statistics get even worse when exploring prescription drug affordability in the Black community. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a division of the National Institute of Health, “Elderly black Medicare beneficiaries are more than twice as likely as white beneficiaries to not have supplemental insurance and to not fill prescriptions because they cannot afford them.”


Likewise, an AARP survey of 1,218 African-American voters last year found more than three in five (62 percent) said “prices of prescription drugs are unreasonable” and nearly half (46 percent) said they did not fill a prescription provided by their doctor, mainly because of cost.


The inability to pay for prescription drugs – even for those under the age of 65 - has significantly impacted Blacks, Latinos and other people of color due to economic disparities.