A few weeks ago, just by chance, one of the doctors on the Patient Choices Vermont (PCV) Board of Directors discovered that the sole pharmacy in Vermont that had previously been filling prescriptions for medical aid in dying under Act 39, was directed by their new corporate owner to stop providing this service.
So, you may ask, why did they receive this directive?
The new corporate owner of the Marbleworks Pharmacy in Middlebury was just being cautious. Since laws like Act 39 are available only in a handful of states, they needed to understand the law. PCV contacted the corporate executives at the top level, and we were able to provide the information they needed. As a result, Marbleworks is now once again supplying the drug that has been the most used under Act 39.
I realized during these communications that no other organization or state agency had the responsibility or would have taken the initiative to reverse this situation. Patient Choices Vermont is the one organization that is making sure that Vermonters have practical access to medical aid in dying. We are proud and relieved to have averted what could have been a crisis for patients.
You may have heard that the drug that has been primarily used for medical aid in dying is very expensive. That's true. The Seconal prescription costs $3,700. This is because there is only one supplier worldwide and the demand is low, so there is no incentive for competitors to enter the market to help bring the price down. The good news is that a new drug formula, called DDMP2, has now been used extensively for medical aid in dying in California, which has a law similar to Act 39 and far more patients than we have in Vermont. DDMP2 costs $700. This drug requires a compounding pharmacy to dispense it, so we located a pharmacy in Vermont that will do so - the Rutland Pharmacy.
PCV has launched an intensive effort to increase the number of pharmacies who are able to fill prescriptions for both of these medications. We are calling both regular and compounding pharmacies, educating pharmacists about Act 39, and working to establish more locations that will be prepared to supply both drugs.
If you or a friend are discussing medical aid in dying with a doctor, we would highly recommend that you ask the doctor to call us. We can put doctors in touch with experienced medical colleagues who can discuss clinical matters, dosages, instructions and what pharmacies to use. This is a relatively new part of medical practice, so it is important for doctors to check up on the most current information, even if they have prescribed before.
We really appreciate your interest in being part of the communication network on these issues. To be sure, medical aid in dying is just one option in a spectrum of choices that any given person might make toward the end of life. It's important, from PCV's perspective, that all Vermonters have the opportunity to learn about their medical options and their care options, and to choose what will be most self-affirming for them.