What Makes Specialty Drugs Special?

Roni Shye
Roni Shye, PharmD BCGP BCACP, is a licensed pharmacist in the states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
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Now that you have a background on how a specialty pharmacy works (if you haven’t already, see my previous specialty pharmacy post for more information), let’s focus on the medications that this type of pharmacy dispenses and why they are considered “specialty.”

What does the term specialty medication mean?

Specialty medications—plain and simple—are expensive medications. These drugs are typically used once other options have been exhausted and they may require additional monitoring from your healthcare provider. They can come in different forms, from oral tablets, to self-injectables, to infusions that must be administered at your doctor’s office. Overall, they tend to require a greater understanding and knowledge not only from the healthcare provider standpoint but from you, the patient, as well.

Why are specialty medications more expensive?

The amount of time and money spent research the drug manufacturer puts into creating these complex medications is usually a factor. Specialty drugs treat many conditions, from those as common as arthritis to more unusual conditions like hereditary angioedema. With rarer diseases, it’s more likely that additional funding was needed to create the medication, and that comparatively few people will use and pay for it.

Just how common are specialty medications?

Five of the top 10 medications of 2012 by sales were specialty drugs, according to this article in the Specialty Pharmacy Times. Specialty medications are expected to continue to grow as the drug market shifts away from larger patient populations and medications like Lipitor for cholesterol and toward smaller patient populations and medications like Humira for rheumatoid arthritis.

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