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February 19, 2004
All Fixed Up
Time to revisit a long-standing topic. You may well have noticed the news items about the FDA's new programs to crack down on prescription drug counterfeiting. That sort of crime is to be expected, given the money to be made - although you really have to wonder about the human status of anyone who turns out fake medicines, full of confectioner's sugar or whatnot. It would be more honest and aboveboard to sneak into someone's hospital room and dig through whatever purses or wallets you could find. Less damaging to the victim, too, for that matter.
So any cost-effective means to cut down on this is welcome. But does a bluff make a sound when it's being called? Regular readers will know that I've spoken out several times about drug reimportation from Canada, and how I oppose it on economic grounds. But my industry's trade association, PhRMA, has taken their stand on the drug safety part of the issue. "Don't import those contaminated drugs!" goes the cry. (How many of the counterfeits seized to date actually came through Canadian pharmacies, I wonder?)
As I've said, one problem with this line of attack is that it doesn't get at the real heart of the issue, which is the cost of research and the money that needs to be made to fund it. (And yes, I know, the costs of marketing, too - but keep in mind that companies, in whatever industry, don't spend that kind of marketing money year after year without getting a good return on it as well. We can debate how much advertising drug companies should be allowed to do, but don't assume that we're throwing the money out the window.) There will be more next week on drug costs and research spending (the mail keeps on coming!), but no matter what, I think we can assume that the two are somehow related.
No, the real problem with the drug-safety argument is that it makes reimportation seem like an otherwise harmless thing, that just suffers from this unfortunate side problem. What happens if someone actually fixes it? What's my industry going to be able to say then? There is a backup plan, right, guys?
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