What are specialty drugs

What is special about specialty drugs?

OK, I am going to show my age… Life used to be more simple. That statement is true for many aspects of life, even for the medications you take to treat an illness. Not so many years ago, every medication you needed was available at your local pharmacy. You would visit your doctor about a problem, get a prescription, take that prescription to your local pharmacy and take home your medication. It was very easy. However, we now live in an era of specialty drug products that make this process a bit more complicated.

You might ask what is a specialty drug? That question has a number of different answers.

  • It could be a drug that is the result of a complicated biologic or biotechnology process. In other words, it is made from living cells.
  • They generally carry a high cost due to treatment of complex conditions that often occur in a small percentage of the population.
  • Some require special handling or storage.
  • They require strict adherence to a specific regimen.
  • Additional patient education and support may be required from a health care professional.
  • Most are not stocked in traditional retail pharmacies and are only available from specialty pharmacies.
  • Because of the condition being treated, some have limited distribution through only a few pharmacies.

Specialty drugs make up less than 1 percent of the overall number of prescriptions filled and treat conditions like cancer, lung disorders like cystic fibrosis, Hepatitis C, blood diseases and multiple sclerosis (MS), to name just a few. And, that less than 1 percent accounts for 35 percent of the total dollars spent on pharmacy drugs. However, the list of specialty drugs is growing with a large percentage of new drugs coming to market in recent years having the “specialty” designation. Most often these drugs are delivered directly to your home through the mail. In some cases, they may be delivered to your physician’s office or even to a local pharmacy for pick-up.

Specialty pharmacies invest a great deal of resources to make sure the patient’s experience with the medication is positive.

  • Many specialty drugs come with additional care management from the pharmacy in the form of phone calls and mailings to make sure the drug is taken correctly and to monitor for possible side effects.
  • To prevent waste, the first few prescriptions may be partially filled with only a week or two of medication in case the patient experiences a side effect from the drug.
  • Pharmacies will often call the patient prior to the scheduled refill date to make sure therapy is going well and to confirm the continued need for the medication.

As treatment evolves and technology improves, the pharmaceutical industry is bringing to market specialty medications for conditions that once had no treatment. Getting your medicine from a pharmacy that focuses on specialty drugs can help you get the most of your specialty medication. These medications can be complex, but working closely with the staff at the specialty pharmacy can make things easier, ensuring that your medications are safe, effective, and an uninterrupted supply is delivered to your door.

Ken Mishler, BCBSKS corporate pharmacist

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