More AIDS drugs covered under prescription program

Thanks to a new infusion of federal money, patients who cannot afford the high cost of AIDS medications now are eligible for more assistance under Maryland's prescription drug program.

Emergency regulations enacted late last month have widened the array of drugs covered by the Maryland AIDS Drug Assistance Program from three to 18. The list now includes drugs used to fight most of the major AIDS-related illnesses including tuberculosis, yeast infections and a serious affliction that blinds some patients.


Many of the drugs are new ones that recently won approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Others are older medications whose AIDS-fighting capabilities have been demonstrated in clinical trials.

The expansion was made possible by increased funding under a federal program providing emergency relief to cities that have been hard hit by the acquired immune deficiency syndrome epidemic. Increasing the list of drugs should double the $180,000 Maryland spent last year on drugs for patients infected with the AIDS virus, according to the state health department.


More than 400 people have received medication through the program since it was launched in 1987, substantially fewer than state officials initially expected. One possible explanation is that many patients have received free drugs by participating in clinical trials at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Center, according to Eric Fine of the state AIDS Administration.

Dr. Fine said it was not clear how many people will take advantage of the program, now that it has been expanded.

Since 1987, the drug assistance program has covered three drugs: AZT, pentamidine and alpha interferon. The newly covered medications include DDI, an anti-viral drug similar to AZT; acyclovir, a medication for herpes; and foscarnet, a drug for a potentially blinding condition that attacks the retina.

The program is intended for people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid or another pharmacy assistance program intended for poor people who need drugs for a wide variety of illnesses.

It covers single people with incomes as high as $29,400. A sliding scale sets levels for patients in larger households -- $34,200, for instance, for those living in a household of four.