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Spending on Diabetes Drugs on the Rise

Study Shows Expenditures Are Going Up Due to Greater Use of Newer Drugs

Diabetes Drug Costs Growing continued...

"It would be incredibly expensive," she tells WebMD. "It is true that we don't really know if over the long term one drug is better than another. But it is also true that we are moving in the right direction in terms of diabetes control."

Due to better blood sugar control and better overall management, she says fewer diabetes patients are developing some of the most serious complications of the disease, such as kidney failure and blindness.

New Diabetes Cases on the Rise

Alexander says getting diabetes treatment costs under control is critical because the number of Americans who have the disease is expected to soar within the next few decades.

Newly released figures from the CDC bear this out. Among the highlights of the report:

  • In 2007, almost 18 million Americans had been diagnosed with diabetes, up from 11 million in 2000.
  • Another 5.7 million people had diabetes, but had not been diagnosed.
  • Another 57 million American adults had prediabetes.

Alexander and senior author Randall Stafford, MD, PhD, of the Stanford Prevention Research Center, analyzed data from two national prescription drug databases to come up with their drug cost estimates.

They found that the estimated number of visits to a doctor for diabetes treatment increased from 25 million in 1994 to 36 million in 2007.

During the same period:

  • The percentage of patients treated with only one drug declined by almost half, from 82% to 47% of doctor visits.
  • Insulin prescriptions decreased from 38% to 28% during the period.
  • Prescriptions written for older sulfonylurea drugs declined from 67% to 34%.

Between 2001 and 2007, the average diabetes drug prescription cost rose from $56 to $76, mostly due to the increasing use of newly available drugs like Januvia and Byetta, the researchers note.

"It is important to recognize how expensive treatment for diabetes has become," Stafford says. "The near-doubling of diabetes [drug] costs may partly reflect better care, but we need to step back and examine the value of newer and more costly medications that may be overused."

Merck issued a statement in response to the study, noting that the company is committed to the development of new diabetes drugs.

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