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I have a drug problem

I have a drug problem.

I’ve been getting 3-day migraines roughly once a month for the past 15 years or so.  If you do the math, that means I’ve had migraines about 10% of the time.

I only found out a year ago that they were migraines. Before that, I just thought they were bad headaches. I took a lot of over-the-counter pain meds, which had only minimal effect, and mostly I just waited for them to go away.

It’s amazing what you can learn to live with.

About a year ago my doctor gave me some free samples of Relpax. Next time I had a migraine I tried one, and I was astonished and ecstatic when it actually worked. No more three-day marathons of pain.

Sometimes it works completely, other times it works partially. Either way, it’s a dramatic improvement in my quality of life.

My doctor was able to keep me supplied with free samples until recently. The last time I saw her, she only had a sample pack of two pills. My typical migraines eat three pills over three days, so she wrote me a prescription.

Tuesday I took the second-last pill. Wednesday I took the last pill. Thursday I went to the pharmacy and learned that the cost of 12 Relpax pills is $205. Or $51 a migraine.

I left without getting the prescription filled.

At that price, I’m forced to have a conversation with myself about whether Relpax is a necessity or a luxury. Since I managed without it for all those years, maybe it’s a luxury. On the other hand, since it dramatically improves the quality of my life, maybe it’s a necessity.

You know what really burns me? My drug costs soared at the same time my income plunged. Until I got laid off in 2009, I had a drug plan I barely used because I almost never had a prescription to fill. And then, practically the minute I lost my job, I developed all these health problems and needed prescription drugs that I had to pay for myself.

I’m down to just the anti-inflammatories and anti-cancer drugs and the optional anti-migraine pills now, but it’s still expensive. I feel like I can’t really afford it, but I actually can if I must.

What happens to people who literally can’t afford their prescription medications?

24 comments to I have a drug problem

  • If you have no insurance, you can contact the company that makes Relpax and see if they have a Patient Assistance program that will provide the medicine for free. I am a psych social worker and help lots of folks get free meds.

  • Can the Trillium program help?
    I helped a friend apply once, and the forms were a nightmare but I think she was able to get some assistance.
    She has migraines too, wretched wretched awful things.

    • Thanks Finola. I visited their site and did the calculations. Apparently I’m not spending quite enough on meds yet to qualify for any kind of reimbursement from them. (In very approximate numbers, If you earn $25,000 a year, you pay for the first $1,400 yourself, and they reimburse you beyond that.) They don’t seem to do it retroactively, so you have to apply first and then prescription expenses beyond that will be eligible. So I’m going to apply and see what happens going forward. The migraine meds will push me past the threshold. Thanks again.

  • I’m in a similar situation. when I had health coverage I just suffered thru migraines not wanting to use a drug for them. Now that I don’t have coverage, I’ve had enough loss of life from this. The doctor said there were 4 or 5 options of medications. I got prescribed Maxalt. It paled me to drop $150 or so but it works out to about $14/migraine. Now, we’ll see if it works….

    • See, it’s worth it if you look at it as $14 a migraine. (In my case it’s triple that, since I have to take them three days running. But even then…)

  • Lalawawa

    I say trillium although I haven’t gone to all the trouble to apply yet so I can only hope it’s worth the hurdles.
    btw – my blog is dead so you can delete the link.

    • My blogroll is long overdue for a complete overhaul. There are so many dead links, and so many new blogs that should replace them. It’s on my to-do list!

  • Gillian

    Check the price at Costco and Walmart. You don’t have to have a Costco membership to use their pharmacy. It’s the law.

  • Deb

    The Maxalt worked for me too. I have some left over that you are welcome to try. If family history is an indicator, you won’t be getting these migraines much longer. I stopped getting them after menopause :)

  • Mark

    What happens to people who literally can’t afford their prescription medications?

    Sometimes they die.

    • That’s what I was afraid of. Years ago I heard about an organization in the US whose only mandate was to recover leftover AIDS meds from the possessions of deceased AIDS patients and redistribute them to current patients who couldn’t afford their meds.

      There’s an old folk song that sticks in my head and comes back to me at times like this:

      If tomorrow were a thing that money could buy
      The rich would live and the poor would die.

  • …I had a roommate who, back in the 1960’s and 70’s, used to hijack the trucks that brought the medications to the pharmacy. He did eight years but, in prison, health care and meds are free, so even if you get caught, you’re covered.

    But I’d go with either trying to score more freebies off other doctors, or the Trillium drug plan option…

    • Thanks Gabe. Hmmm, that’s another idea – establish a network of doctors who can keep me supplied. (Although, from a public health system perspective, that’s a waste of resources, since OHIP would have to pay each of these doctors to see me.) But maybe I’ll call my doc today and see if the sample fairy paid a visit.

      (By the way,I finally caved and went back to the pharmacy and dropped $326 on prescriptions, $205 of which was for 12 migraine pills. The current 3-day migraine has lasted six days.)

  • grace

    A friend is a nurse at a diabetic service here. Some of her patients have not been able to afford their meds. They have died.

  • future landfill

    How does marajahochie affect the migraines? I’ve wondered a long time if it has any positive attributes for the migraine or just a prolongation.

    • That’s a really good question. I’m a pretty infrequent flyer these days, and I can’t recall if I’ve ever indulged while in the grip of a migraine. It might help and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t hurt. I’ll put it on my to-do list!

  • mudmama

    I was going to suggest trillium too, we’re on a similar nova scotia program butthis province is waymore povertyfriendly, they contacted us to tell us we qualified. The minimums are much lower than l expected.

  • Florence

    I’ve suffered from migraines since I was about 9 or 10 years old. My bouts with 3-day migraines lasted from 9 or 10 until my mid to late twenties. At that time they didn’t know much about migraines, so there really wasn’t much other than aspirin. I learned to find a position where the pain was the least, and keep that position until I fell asleep, which sometimes short and sometimes long. I also made sure my ‘little’ brother was not playing the bass to his music. He had headphones, but if the bass was going, I could feel it all up and down my body. I still get them, but thankfully they’re no where as painful, and rarely last more than one day. If they last more than one day it’s usually the sensitivities that are there. I am now able to get along with either 222s or migraine strength Advil. They don’t always completely take the pain away, but I can still function and enjoy myself. I hope Deb is right in that they’ll stop after menopause. Mine haven’t, but like I say they are nowhere near as bad as they were, and I don’t lose days upon days of my life to them. My migraines happen to hereditary (from my Dad), although his were completely different and only happened maybe once or twice a year. And his were triggered by completely different sources than mine are.

  • Dorothy Siemens

    I used to get migraines at least once a week for 2-3 days at a time. Over the years it seemed there were various triggers – weather, hormones, etc. Then this Spring I read a book called “Wheat Belly” by William Davis, MD. He postulates that many of the ills in North America today are caused by eating wheat, and one of the problems that could clear up could be migraines. I thought – I’ve tried everything else (including the $15 per pill Axert, which was beginning to lose effectiveness). So I completely cut wheat and for good measure all grains out of my diet. About a month later, I suddenly realized that it had been a couple of weeks and no migraine! Hmmm. I continued on the “change in lifestyle” plan. It has now been more than 5 months – I am completely migraine free. It is like a miracle. I can’t express how wonderful it is to be without this debilitating pain dragging down my energy, creativity and life! Not only that, my husband lost 9 lbs without even trying. We don’t miss grains at all as we have adapted our diet to be without them. Just saying – it might work for you too. Read the book.