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In Colorado, A Low-Price Drug Cocktail Will Tamp Down Cost Of Death With Dignity

By Kaiser Health News  
   December 20, 2016

Many health insurance plans pay for aid-in-dying drugs, but some don't, and the medications aren't covered by federal programs such as Medicare or Catholic-run health care systems. That can create a barrier for terminally ill patients who want to use the law.

This article first appeared December 1, 2016 on Kaiser Health News.

By JoNel Aleccia

As Colorado's aid-in-dying law takes effect this month, proponents say they'll make sure terminally-ill patients have access to a new, affordable drug concoction that will avoid the $3,000 cost of a common lethal sedative that has skyrocketed in price.

Officials with Compassion & Choices, an advocacy group, are reaching out to pharmacies statewide to confirm that they'll stock components of a lethal four-drug cocktail to substitute for secobarbital, known as Seconal, the pricey sleeping pill most often prescribed to induce death.

It's the second time in a year that right-to-die advocates have come up with a substitute for Seconal after Canadian drugmaker Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. acquired the medication in February 2015 — and abruptly doubled the $1,500 retail price.

"We were looking for something more affordable and available," said Kat West, an attorney and policy expert with Compassion & Choices.

The new law, which was passed by a two-thirds majority, was signed into law on Dec. 16 by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Colorado joins five other states — Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana and California — in which terminally ill patients, usually those expected to live six months or less, can choose to take doctor-prescribed drugs to end their lives. In Oregon, at least 991 patients have died after taking drugs prescribed since the law took effect in 1997. In Washington state, at least 917 have died under terms of the law enacted in 2009.

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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