Montana Viewpoint
The pharmaceuticalindustry eliminates the middle man.

April 3, 2006

In an unprecedented governmental action the United  States government handed over the operation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association. Except for the purchase of Congress by a consortium of leading industries, this is the first time that a branch of the federal government has come under the direct management of private enterprise.

Flush with their lucrative victory on the Medicare Part D drug legislation, PhRMA immediately began consolidating its gains by contracting with the Customs and Border Protection branch of the Department of Homeland Security to intercept contraband Canadian prescription drugs being imported into the United States by smugglers operating under the cover of Senior Citizens organizations.

The suspected recipients of the seized illegal drugs were sent a letter advising them that they could have the drugs destroyed by signing a waiver, or they could have the drugs destroyed by not signing a waiver.

In response to reporters’ questions about senior citizens becoming confused about what choice exactly was involved, a PhRMA spokesman stated, “Well, it’s crystal clear to me, and the fact that some are confused just illustrates the poor judgment these people are using in buying American made pharmaceuticals from foreign countries. Those drugs are just not safe!”

To underscore the point, flyers depicting a Scary Serpent coiled around a bottle of pills accompanied the notice of seizure.

As reported by the Boston Globe, U.  S. Representative Gil Gutknecht, R-Minnesota, assessed the seizures, saying, “[W]e have a government that can’t control our borders to illegal immigration and literally tons of illegal narcotic drugs…but by God they can stop Grandma from saving $50 on her prescription drugs.”

OK, I’ve had enough fun. I know it’s sometimes hard for us to distinguish fact from fiction in the news, but for the benefit of my readers and pharmaceutical drug manufacturers without a sense of humor, this is a spoof—sort of.

The quote from Congressman Gutknecht is real.

A constituent of mine who had her Canadian prescription drugs seized by Customs did send me a copy of the letter she received from Customs that outlined the choice of ways to have the drugs destroyed, and a copy of the accompanying Scary Serpent flyer from the FDA.

I like to think I’ve got some abilities in the thinking department (regardless as to what others might say), but I couldn’t understand the Customs letter. It did seem that whatever the recipient did it was bye-bye drugs and money.

Let’s put this “unsafe drug” baloney out to pasture. According to an October 2005 article in Consumer Reports magazine, a study by the state of Illinois found that Canadian drugs are manufactured and regulated in a manner similar to that in America.

A 2004 report by Congress’ own Governmental Accountability Office held that drugs imported from Canada contained the proper chemical composition and were shipped and handled in accordance with special handling requirements.

Some jaded souls have also pointed out that the FDA itself doesn’t do that great a job in protecting the public from harmful side effects of U.  S. manufactured drugs.

Here’s a short chronology of significant actions by our government that have given protection to the U.  S. pharmaceutical industry at the expense of sick Americans.

The Prescription Drug Marketing Act of 1987 passed on a bipartisan vote. Among other things, it makes the importation of drugs from other countries for personal use a Federal offense, even drugs made in America that had been shipped to those countries by the drug manufacturer.

The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 provides a discount drug program for Medicare recipients, but bans the federal government from negotiating “Part D” drug price discounts with pharmaceutical companies. This is in direct contrast to the state-run MedicaidProgram which has been lowering taxpayers costs since its beginning by requiring significant price discounts from drug suppliers.

In 2003 the Congressional Budget Office estimated these discounts lowered Medicaid drug costs 31.4%. Instead of saving taxpayers money, the full cost of the Medicare drugs, including any increase in the manufacturer’s price, will be picked up by the American taxpayer.

And finally, in what some cynics have seen as a tool to force senior citizens into Part D coverage, after 19 years, Customs has finally begun to enforce the 1987 law, and is confiscating otherwise legal drugs ordered from other countries by otherwise law abiding Americans.

The very fact that Americans have turned to illegal means to get prescription drugs at lower cost only illustrates the failure of the American system of providing health care coverage.

There’s a bright side to all this, though. We can now say about the American health care system what Will Rogers once said about the income tax; it’s “made more liars out of people than golf.”


Jim Elliott
Phone: 406-444-1556
Mail: State Senate Helena, MT 59620