RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and FRANK BASS
Monday, Nov 24, 2008
Dozens of deaths have been linked to medications that have never been reviewed by the government for safety and effectiveness but are still covered under Medicaid, an Associated Press analysis of federal data has found.
Taxpayers have shelled out at least $200 million since 2004 for such drugs, and millions of private patients are taking them as well.
The AP analysis found that Medicaid paid nearly $198 million from 2004 to 2007 for more than 100 unapproved drugs, mostly for common conditions such as colds and pain. Data for 2008 were not available but unapproved drugs still are being sold. The AP checked the medications against FDA databases, using agency guidelines to determine if they were unapproved. The FDA says there may be thousands of such drugs on the market.
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The medications date back decades, before the Food and Drug Administration tightened its review of drugs in the early 1960s. The FDA says it is trying to squeeze them from the market, but conflicting federal laws allow the Medicaid health program for low-income people to pay for them.
Medicaid officials acknowledge the problem, but say they need help from Congress to fix it. The FDA and Medicaid are part of the Health and Human Services Department, but the FDA has yet to compile a master list of unapproved drugs, and Medicaid — which may be the biggest purchaser — keeps paying.