Durbin: Pharma Fleece From Drug Vial Waste Must End

With focus on over-sized cancer drug vials that cause billions in wasted drug spending, Durbin highlights new bipartisan bill & slams Big Pharma in new series of floor speeches highlighting pharmaceutical greed

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today on the Senate floor, as part of his new “Pharma Fleece Awards” series of floor speeches highlighting egregious cases of pharmaceutical greed, slammed Takeda, Eisai, Merck, and Genentech, four pharmaceutical companies that sell cancer drugs in excessively large vials that contain dramatically more medicine than the average patient needs. As a result of these pharmaceutical industry decisions, billions of dollars are spent each year on medications that are thrown in the trash—a colossal waste of patient and taxpayer money, and a driver of high prescription drug spending. In 2016, Takeda Pharmaceuticals sold its oncology drug, Velcade, only in 3.5mg vials—sized for a person who is 6 feet 6 inches and weighs 250 pounds—despite also selling the medication in a smaller, 1mg vial in Europe.  That year, Takeda generated an estimated $309 million from discarded amounts of Velcade—including tens of millions from Medicare. 

“What makes this even more appalling is that pharmaceutical industry titans actually sell the same drug in smaller containers in other countries, but not in the United States. Here, we are forced to buy the largest container, and throw away the difference,” Durbin said. “Patients in America should not face higher drug costs because these Pharma Fleecers choose to sell their expensive cancer drugs in excessively large drug vials that unnecessarily are going to be wasted.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.


Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.


Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.

Last month, Durbin and U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced a bipartisan bill that would address the egregious wasted spending on discarded medications as a result of excessively large, single-use drug vials. The Recovering Excessive Funds for Unused and Needless Drugs (REFUND) Act would enable Medicare to recoup money from drug companies who were paid for wasted medications, and provide savings to seniors enrolled in Medicare. 

Each year, Medicare and private health insurers waste nearly $3 billion on cancer medications that are thrown out because the drugs are packaged in vials that hold too much for most patients.  A report that Durbin requested in 2016 from the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that—for only 20 drugs—Medicare paid $195 million between 2013-2014 for medication that was discarded because it was packaged in oversized single-use vials.  

Most of these medications are available in other countries in vials containing smaller quantities.  Because of the 20 percent coinsurance that Medicare beneficiaries pay for these drugs, America’s seniors are also paying out of pocket for these wasted drugs.  This issue will only become more pronounced with the explosive growth in high-cost, specialty cancer medications.