Mele is Out of Armour and Out of Options


Below, Mele describes her plight struggling to adjust to the disappearance of Armour from U.S. pharmacies. She discovered what was explained in my post, “Behind the Disappearance of Armour”. Forest Pharmaceuticals and Medicare are both responding in their own ways to the FDA decree that Armour Thyroid submit an application (NDA) as if it were any new drug seeking to come to market now. The FDA is charged with the responsibility to assure all prescription drugs in the U.S. demonstrate minimum levels of safety and efficacy. As a bureaucracy the FDA is unable (unwilling) to find a way to use the 50+ years of unblemished clinical experience unique to Armour, to satisfy this requirement. Rather than correct its own deficiency the FDA is forcing many thousands of hypothyroid patients on dessicated thyroid products to go through the difficult and potentially dangerous process of finding alternative thyroid hormone therapies. I am guessing that the FDA is receiving support for this policy from companies making synthetic t4 products and from medical organizations and their officers who receive funds from these same companies. Let’s not forget that Forest itself markets a generic t4 product, Levothroid, which will absorb some of the business lost by the withdrawal of Armour.

Mele submits her story to metabolism.com:

I’m just devastated. I could only get a seven day supply yesterday of Armour at Wal-Mart. They have no idea what the problem is and told me to come in Tuesday and they would have some again. I had no idea there was a problem again (last year’s nightmare made me assume everything would be ok after Forrest redid their manufacturinging plant) until I googled today.

I am 66 years old and have been on Armour Thyroid since I was 15 years old when I had a subtotal thyroidectomy for carcinoma. The only time I ever tried Synthroid was about 20 years ago when an endocrinologist convinced me that I was going to get osteoporosis if I continued using Armour. I only took it for two months, and when I walked into my family doctor’s office at the end of the two months, he took haveone look me and said “whWt is wrong? You are not you”. I wasn’t me anymore (and the blood tests he ordered confirmed that I was very low on T3 and barely in the normal range for T4). That was probably the most terrifying experience I have ever had. I had no idea how totally entwined my personality, and feelings of well being, are dependent on Armour. I still find it scary that “me” is a product of a drug I take and when I take a different brand, I am no longer me. I felt like a stranger in my own skin…weak, no sparkly, dramatic personality… instead dull feeling, acting and cobwebs in my brain. My family doctor said that he was putting me back on Armour immediately and slowly I began to feel like me again.

I’m terrified now. I am in the middle of trying to prepare for a very complicated (nothing is ever simple or easy medically for me) cataract surgery in another city that I have fly to repeatedly for the presurgical appointments. If I have to go on Synthyroid again…how can I deal with this other upcoming surgery? It can’t be put off as I can barely see to drive now.

Anyhow, I agree with others here that we have to organize and fight this. I find it very difficult to believe this is simply a shortage of the thyroid powder that Forrest is claiming is the problem. This is the FDA meddling, yet again, with patients very lives. I think I know an organization that will help us as they have fought bloody battles with the FDA for many years and have been victorious to a large extent. I am speaking of the Life Extension Foundation. I’ll be contacting them.

Two other things. For what it is worth, I have noticed no problems with the change in Armour but for the first time in many years, I have not done thyroid blood levels in two years. But I feel fine so I guess I don’t have the absorbtion problem some mention with the new formula. I have had hair breakage though which I have puzzled over and that could well be due to the formula change.

As for Medicare and Armour, I have had Medicare since a drunk driver hit me many years ago so I have had Medicare long before I turned 65. When Medicare Part D first appeared Armour was on the Medicare forumulary. That was in mid 2006. Armour was on the Medicare formulary in 2007 also. Beginning Jan 2008, Armour was removed from the Medicare formulary. My physician I did a lot of research, calling, letter writing, etc. about it. My drug plan was and still is from AARP/United Health Care. United Health Care is angry about the Armour situation. However, they cannot make a special exception to cover it when a physician asks them to do so (as mine did) because their hands are tied. They are required by law to allow ONLY drugs that are approved and on the Medicare formulary.

AARP/United Health Care covers ALL drugs on the Medicare formulary and by law cannot cover any that are banned from the Medicare formulary. Armour was banned in 2008. I called Forest about it and was extremely puzzled by their lacksidasical response. My physician wrote Forrest also and they sent back a reply that had nothing to do with the question about Armour being removed from the Medicare formulary. My physician learned later that his, and my, suspicions were correct. It was removed because the FDA told Medicare that they could not cover a drug that had not gone through the NDA I believe it is called…where a new drug has to undergo extensive clinical trials as per FDA regulations. We learned that the FDA was requiring Forrest to do this if they wanted Medicare coverage for Armour. Well, that is not possible. Forrest charges very little for Armour. Where are they supposed to get the money for the many years of clinical trials that the FDA has demanded? The FDA knew that demanding this would effectively kill Armour and that was their intent.

So, since Jan 2008, I have had to pay for a Medicare Part D plan that I can’t use because the only drug I take (unless I need an antibiotic or something short term) is Armour. Wat is worse, most health insurance companies follow the Medicare formulary so if Medicare no longer covers Armour then most insurance plans will not cover it either.

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  • Tina Montalvo

    Dear Dr. Pepper:
    I have been feeling much better since you prescribed NatureThroid for me three weeks ago, and I am concerned about the shortage of dessicated thyroid generics. I sent e-mails this morning to health writers at the NYTimes, and received a reply very quickly from one, Gina Kolata; I have pasted it below. I hope the newspaper picks this up and publishes an article on the situation. I can let you know if I receive other replies.
    Thank you very much for having helped me with my symptoms, and for fighting such an important battle.
    Sincerely,
    Tina Montalvo

    Thanks for writing. I passed your e mail on to a colleague who, I thought, might want to look into the situation.
    Gina

    On Thu, Sep 17, 2009 at 8:59 AM, NYTimes.com wrote:

    To: GINA KOLATA

    You have received reader mail via nytimes.com. To respond to this reader, simply ‘reply’ to this message.

    READER’S NAME:
    Tina Montalvo

    READER’S E-MAIL:
    tmontalv@bellsouth.net

    READER’S MESSAGE:
    Dear Ms. Kolata: I am writing in regard to recent restrictions on the availability of alternative, though highly effective, medications for hypothyroidism. Dessicated thyroid generics (made from the thyroid glands of pigs), known as Armour or NatureThroid, help thousands of people who suffer from low-functioning thyroids. I was on Synthroid, a synthetic thyroid medication, for years, but still suffered from symptoms. It was only when I began using NatureThroid, which treats all four of the hormone levels affected by the thyroid (vs. Synthoid, which only treats one), that my symptoms cleared up. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to no longer feel agitated and inexplicably moody, nor to have my hair falling out, my skin dry, etc. But it is becoming harder and harder to find dessicated thyroid generics. Armour, which has been around for about 50 years, is virtually out of business. Apparently the shortage has to do with FDA documentation requirements (which is odd; why now?)!
    . Meanwhile, the American Academy of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) is backing Synthroid, which makes big money for its manufacturers (i.e., Abbott Laboratories). I hope this captures your interest. I don’t know what I, or thousands of others who have found relief with dessicated thyroid generics, will do if they are no longer available. If you would like more information, it may be helpful to go to http://www.metabolism.com. Thank you very much for your attention, Tina Montalvo West Palm Beach, FL

    ARTICLE REFERENCED (if any):
    None

  • Gabriella

    You can get the Canadian version of Armour, called ERFA at: http://www.universaldrugstore.com. Just have your doctor write a prescription. It costs approx. $50 for 300 1 grain tablets, approx. $70 for $400. This saved me.

  • Bobbie Deblieck

    Very good article. Keep writing.