Opinion column: Blagojevich: U.S. drug runner

By Kiyoshi Martinez

Addicts and drug users plague the United States. The thirst for a continuing healthy life and upkeep for degrading physical conditions drives forward the pharmaceutical industry. Everyone fights to prolong and promote the general welfare of his or her lives. Give us our daily Lipitor, Allegra and Topamax. Definitely score some Paxil.

A nation of addicts hooked on the good American way of life elevated Big Pharma into modern gods of happiness and comfort. The idea of fixing problems with a pill went from pulp science fiction to a multibillion-dollar corporate reality. Somewhere in the pursuit of the perfect human condition, the dream of science providing medicinal cures twisted into a nightmare of corporate greed and price gouging.

Cries came from all ages. Feelings of disgust ran rampant with the idea that our neighbors of the north could purchase the same prescriptions at a considerably lower price. According to www.affordabledrugs.il.gov, U.S. citizens paid 38 percent more than Canadians, 48 percent more than Italians, 45 percent more than French and 31 percent more than British citizens for prescribed medications in 2002. Clearly, the drug companies have been hustling the pill poppers of the United States.

Tumbleweed into last Tuesday when Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced a plan to create an online network to import prescription drugs from outside the borders of the United States for Illinois residents.

Leave it to the Democrats to bring cheap dope to the elderly.

On the surface, Blagojevich’s plan works as a solution to a long-standing problem. Bringing controlled medications from outside the borders in a state-sponsored and monitored program creates a safe and reliable system that could mean savings amounting to an approximated $1.9 billion per year.

Blagojevich has said the “federal government has failed to act” to provide U.S. citizens with lost cost prescriptions. But unsurprisingly, his decision has drawn criticism.

While importing pharmaceuticals from other nations appears like a much-needed break for consumers on a budget, the plan works more like a Band-Aid when surgery is needed. The problem of high prices placed on branded prescriptions should not be solved through foreign imports. Instead, the focus must be shifted toward encouraging drug companies to reduce the markup placed on their medicine.

Branded drugs, such as Lipitor, Allegra, Topamax and Paxil, have high prices because of marketing, administration and public relations costs. U.S. citizens do not pay a premium for research and development in the drug business; they pay for the advertisements splashed across the idiot box.

Even over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol, show proof of how the drug industry operates. Tylenol really is the marketing name for acetaminophen. Put a pill from a Tylenol bottle next to the generic equivalent that costs about half as much, and you discover both were manufactured at the same place and simply were placed in different bottles. One has a trademarked logo while the other costs less.

Applauding Blagojevich’s efforts to provide lower-income constituents with cheap medicine is a logical response. But the problem isn’t the prohibition of importing prescriptions. In reality, the focus should be placed on regulating the markup placed on drugs by the pharmaceutical industry. The choice of purchasing food or medicine shouldn’t become a reality for consumers. If government would step in and control the level of extortion Big Pharma exercises, U.S. citizens could stop depending on foreign countries for goods already made available domestically. The time should come where U.S. consumers wear the pants in the relationship between themselves and the drug industry.

Finally, the Food and Drug Administration also discourages Blagojevich’s methods. Currently, the FDA does not encourage drugs to be imported, because their safety cannot be verified. This creates a concern: At what point will Illinois be liable for unsafe drug imports? One incident of sickness or death related to imported drugs could escalate into stricter federal policy baring imports of any controlled substance, state level or otherwise.

Is Blagojevich prepared to devote the human and financial resources needed to ensure the safe and cheap flow of drugs from outside? Let’s hope he’s thought this through. Ready or not, these drugs wait patiently on the shores and roadways of a world market anxious to make U.S. citizens feel better about themselves again.

Kiyoshi Martinez is a junior in journalism. His column appears Tuesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]