Assisted suicide law in California lets docs help dying end their lives but drug cost spiked

California’s assisted suicide law, which comes into effect this month makes it the fifth state to allow doctor assisted death behind Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana. The law, modeled after Oregon’s statute requires that a patient be at least 18 years old and terminally ill with no more than six months to live. Two separate requests must be made to a doctor, at least 15 days apart, and a third in writing. The doctor must then determine that the patient has the mental capacity to ask for the drugs and discuss alternatives such as pain control. Then the doctor must refer the patient to a second doctor to confirm the diagnosis and mental competence.

Once both doctors sign off, the first doctor will write a prescription likely for secobarbital, under the brand name Seconal. This is filled at a pharmacy. A fatal dose is around 90 capsules. This can be put into a liquid drink. It can also be administered via injection. Seconal is a barbiturate causing depression of the central nervous system. This lowers the motor activity of neurons in the brain. It makes a patient fall alseep and die soon after. In 2009, 100 capsules cost $200.In 2015 the drug manufacturer Valeant was criticized when it doubled the price of Seconol from $1500 to $3000 This increase was a few months after passage of the California law which came into effect this month. It is unclear if insurance companies will pay for the drug.

Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers.