The High Price of New Drugs 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Dolores pushed the door open and walked into a crowded pharmacy. She held Gary a little tighter as she squeezed her way through the people. It was a little unusual to see so many people in Sempert’s Drugstore in the middle of the morning.

When she got to the counter, she handed the prescription to the clerk behind the counter.

“The doctor said this might be expensive,” Dolores said. “I guess I need to know how much it will cost before filling it.”

“Sure, just a moment, and I will have Frank check it out for you,” the young clerk said.

A couple of minutes later, Frank, the pharmacist, came up to the counter.

“Good morning, Deacon. How are you today?” Frank asked.

“I am fine, but this little guy is not doing so well,” Dolores said. “The doctor said he has tonsillitis. He also said this new drug would work like magic to make him well.”

“Yes, it seems to work like magic, alright,” Frank said. “but it is a little expensive.”

“That is what the doctor said,” Dolores said. “I just need to know how much it will cost before I have you fill it.”

Frank looked around the crowded store. Several ladies were listening to their conversation now. Frank wrote the figure on a slip of paper and pushed it across the counter to Deacon.

“There is the cost, Deacon,” Frank said. “I wish it was less. If it is a problem, we could put it on an account for you so you could pay it over several months.”

Dolores picked up the slip of paper and looked at it. Her mouth fell open, and she looked at Frank with a questioning expression. Tears were welling up in her eyes.

“Yes, Deacon,” Frank said. “These new drugs are expensive.”

“But this is a month’s wages for my Frank,” Dolores said.

“Like I said, I can put it on an account for you,” Frank said.

“No, Frank wouldn’t like to do that,” Dolores said. “I will go talk with Mom and Dad and see if they can help us out with this. Frank won’t like that either, but I can’t let Gary suffer if this will make him well.”

“Okay, but I am going to fill this anyway,” Frank said. “If your folks can’t help, we will just put it on a card in my file, and your Frank won’t have to know a thing about it.”

“I will be back in an hour or less,” Dolores said as she pushed through the thong of people behind her. A tear fell down her cheek as she opened the doors to the open air.

“Deacon, what in the world is wrong?” Lila, her sister, asked as they passed on the sidewalk. “My Lord, I don’t know how long it has been since I have seen you with a tear on your face.”

“Gary has tonsillitis, and the doctor prescribed a new drug for him,” Dolores said. “It is going to cost a month’s wages. I don’t know what we are going to do to pay for it.”

“Heaven forbid,” Lila said. “How can a drug cost that much? These are just crazy times.”

“I’m going to run out to the folks and see if they can help us pay for it,” Deacon said. “Frank won’t like that, but I don’t know what else to do.”

“I’ll follow you out there,” Lila said. “I can watch Gary for you while you return and pick up the medicine.”

It was a short drive out to her folks. Lilia tended to drive faster than Deacon, and she followed close behind.

“Mom, I took Gary to the doctor this morning. He has tonsillitis, and the doctor prescribed some medicine that is supposed to work like magic.”

“That’s good that they have something that works good,” her mother said. “Kids are miserable with that stuff.”

“The problem is it is very expensive,” Deacon said. “I hate to ask, and don’t tell Frank, but could you help us out a little?”

“How expensive are you talking about?” her father asked.

“It’s a month’s wages for Frank,” Deacon said. “I don’t know how long it will take us to pay for this medicine.”

“I’ll write you a check, and don’t worry about paying us back,” her father said. “No grandson of mine is going to suffer for want of a few dollars. And Frank doesn’t need to know anything about it.”

“I don’t know how to thank you,” Deacon said. “Lila will watch Gary while I run and pick up the prescription.”

Dolores handed the check to the pharmacist and clutched the sack to her chest.

“Deacon, this formulation is brand new, and I had to reformulate it a bit for Gary,” Frank said. “This only comes in a capsule, and I doubt you could get a capsule down him. This liquid doesn’t taste very well, and you might struggle to get it down him. You can mix it with some fruit, like a mashed-up banana. Anything like that should work.”

Back at the house, and with the help of Lila and her mother, Dolores prepared a dose of the new medicine.

“The druggist said it tastes terrible,” Deacon said. “Do you have a banana I can mash up and mix with it.?”

“Yes, I’ll grab a banana for you and mix some chocolate milk,” her mother said.

“How do you think we should do this?” Deacon asked.

“Maybe give it in several small bites,” Lila suggested.

“If it tastes bad, you will never get the second bite into him,” her father said. “He is a finicky little guy.”

Dolores put the quarter teaspoon of medicine into a small spoonful of mashed banana.

“Here, Gary, take a sip of chocolate milk,” Grandma said as she held the class for the little guy.

Dolores quickly followed with a spoonful of doctored mashed banana. Gary took the dose without problem but made a face as he swallowed it. Grandma quickly handed him the glass of chocolate milk.

After dinner, Dolores related the events of the day to Frank. 

“The medicine is expensive, but Gary is almost well after just one dose this morning,” Deacon said. “We need to get another dose into him this evening.”

“Expensive; what do you mean by expensive, Deacon?” Frank asked.

“It cost forty-three dollars,” Deacon said.

“Forty-three dollars, we can’t afford that,” Frank said. “Where did you get the money to pay for it? You didn’t put in on one of the cards that Frank Henry keeps in his box, did you? “

“Dad wrote a check for me,” Deacon said. “He doesn’t want us to pay him back.”

“How can they charge that much for a little bottle of medicine?” Frank said. “I have to work weeks for that much money.”

“They said it is brand new, and before now, it has only been available for the military,” Deacon said. “I guess it costs a lot to make.”


The year was 1945, and the drug was Penicillin. Just months earlier, it was only available for the military and for civilians with extreme emergencies. It was first formulated for oral use in February 1945.

My mother was named Dolores, but her childhood nickname, Deacon, given her by the Felsher kids, had stuck and was used by friends and family for her entire life. I never heard my father call her by any other name.

My brother, Gary, struggled with tonsillitis for some time before having them removed.

The median annual income in 1945 was $1400. A logger was probably on the short end of that figure. I have no data on Dad’s monthly wage, but Mom always said the $43 figure was a month’s wage.

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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