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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

Wood and his colleagues came up with a new option this summer, a four-drug mixture that includes diazepam, digoxin, morphine and propranolol, known as DDMP. It costs between $300 and $600.

The mixture, which puts patients to sleep and then halts their heartbeat and breathing, has been used 38 times so far, Wood said.

"It is no more difficult than Seconal to ingest and it seems to work quite well," he added.

The mixture has been used "a fair amount" in California, where an aid-in-dying law took effect in June, said Grube. It's not yet known how many terminally-ill patients have died under that state's law, but dozens have requested prescriptions, officials said.

Valeant was widely criticized for raising the price of secobarbital, a popular sedative in the 1960s and 1970s that lost its patent status in the early 1990s. It has been used for aid-in-dying patients since Oregon passed the first U.S. law in 1997, which was modeled on similar action in the Netherlands, where secobarbital was the drug of choice.

Another sedative, pentobarbital, was also frequently used, but supplies in the U.S. became expensive and scarce after European drugmakers objected to its use as an execution drug in death penalty cases.

Doctors and pharmacists are not obligated to participate in aid-in-dying treatment under existing laws, including the Colorado action. In a recent poll, about 40 percent of more than 600 doctors surveyed said they would be willing to prescribe lethal medication, 42 percent said they wouldn't and 18 percent weren't sure, noted Dr. Cory Carroll, a solo practice family physician in Fort Collins, Colo., who endorsed the measure.

"The docs that are in opposition have a right to their beliefs, but they don't have the right to control others," Carroll said in a recent press conference.

West of Compassion & Choices anticipates that Colorado's law will be used immediately, as similar laws in other states have been.

"We're already getting calls from terminally ill people in Colorado who want to access this law," she said. "I fully expect people to begin requesting prescriptions."

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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