WASHINGTON — When a sepsis patient goes into vasodilatory shock — that is, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs — the intensive care unit springs into action. Alarms blare and frenzied doctors and nurses rush to find a crash cart, scrambling through its contents for a decades-old drug: vasopressin.
Until recently, the drug was so vital and so cheap that hospital staffs kept it stashed in every corner of the ICU. In 2011, a box of 25 tiny vials cost less than $200. But after the Food and Drug Administration granted an Endo Pharmaceuticals subsidiary the exclusive right to make the drug in 2014, the price spiked: the same box, now bearing the brand name Vasostrict, cost over $4,000 in 2018.