Assisted dying
Doctors in Washington have come up with a new medical mix which induces death for around $500Shaun Best/Reuters

Right-to-die advocates in Washington state have developed a far cheaper lethal drug cocktail after a Canadian pharmaceutical company jacked up the price for a commonly used medication in legal suicides.

"We've always had the belief that no matter who you are, whether you're rich or poor, you should have access to a lethal dose of medicine that does what you want: to end your life in a peaceful and dignified manner," George Eighmey, president of the Death with Dignity National Center in Oregon, told the Seattle Times.

Washington doctors have come up with a new mix of medications that induces death for about $500 (£351), one tenth the price of the expensive standard, according to Dr Robert Wood, a University of Washington HIV/AIDS researcher and a volunteer with the right-to-die advocacy organisation, End of Life Washington.

Doctors in both Oregon and Washington, which have right-to-die laws for terminally ill patients, have already begun to use the cheaper drug cocktail. The alternative will also be offered in California, where a similar right-to-die law takes effect later in 2016.

Researchers began working on the new drug cocktail in 2015 after Valent Pharmaceuticals International in Quebec suddenly doubled the cost of their drug Seconal – the trade name of secobarbital sodium – to $3,000 (£2,110) a dose. The price was then raised to $5,000 (£3,500). The 90-year-old sedative once sold for $190 (£134) for a lethal 10-gram dose.

The skyrocketing price ended many patients' plans for death because it was either out of their reach or they did not want to drain family savings. Health insurance rarely pays for death drugs and they are not covered under Medicare.

The new drug is a mix of three medications: phenobarbital, chloral hydrate and morphine sulfate, all in powdered form that can be mixed with water, alcohol, apple sauce or juice.

The Valent price-gouging move was one of a number of pharmaceutical price increases that have incensed the public. Turning Pharmaceuticals was blasted recently when it raised the price of its AIDS and cancer treatment drug by more than 5,000% to $750 (£515).

Critics said Valent boosted the price of Seconal shortly after the right-to-die bill was first seriously discussed in the state legislature in California, which is a major market. Valent officials deny that was the case.

Seconal became the go-to drug when Oregon's law passed in 1997 because it was used in the Netherlands, which provided a model for the state's law.

As of 2014, at least 725 adults with terminal illnesses chose to end their lives with a doctor-prescribed dose of lethal medication in Washington. By 2014, some 752 people opted to end their lives under the Oregon law. Vermont and Montana also have right-to-die laws.