Does Big Pharma actually enjoy the Canadian pharmacies debate?

Life Science Leader, a trade magazine for life science executives, has an article in its June 2009 issue called “Drug Reimportation: Helpful or Harmful?”

While it’s a fair-minded overview of the arguments on both sides of the issue, it unfortunately allows Big Pharma to repeat its most specious rationales for not permitting Americans to buy drugs from Canada.

(Did you know that allowing grandma to buy drugs from a online Canadian pharmacy will increase the threat of terrorism? Oh, brother…)

But what I found most interesting in the story was the analysis of Richard Evans, a vice president at AVOS Life Sciences, a life sciences consultancy. Before joining AVOS, Evans spent nearly a decade studying the U.S. pharmaceutical industry as a Wall Street analyst.

He has also served as vice president for business policy at Roche, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Evans should know a few things about Big Pharma and how it thinks.

So it’s fascinating that Evans tells Life Science Leader that Big Pharma actually likes debating the issue of drug reimportation and keeping it on the front burner — not because it is in the right on the issue, but because it distracts politicians and the public from its other, even more grievous sins.

According to the magazine:

[Evans] thinks that by focusing on drug reimportation, the drug industry deflects efforts to reform other aspects of healthcare which would be more detrimental to the industry. The political utility for the industry is that it consumes legislative time, which is a finite resource. I don’t know anyone who thinks passage [of drug reimportation legislation] would reduce drug prices. He compares the industry’s reaction to the legislation to that of Brer Rabbit, who asked Brer Fox over and over again not to throw him in the briar patch. That, of course, was exactly what he wanted Brer Fox to do, and Evans thinks the drug industry is acting just like Brer Rabbit.

The reality is, passing drug reimportation would indeed save U.S. consumers money. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated it would save consumers a minimum of $40 billion over 10 years.

That’s a lot to you and me — but chump change to Big Pharma. Damien Conover, a stock analyst at Morningstar, tells Life Science Leader that “of all the healthcare reforms being considered, drug reimportation will have the least effect on the pharmaceutical industry.”

And yet, they are fighting it tooth and nail. Here’s an idea: Let’s pass this legislation — then pass those other needed reforms, too.

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Comments (4)

OK, Cary, let’s put aside the (well-documented and significant) safety issues with gray markets for a moment.

Have you considered the macroeconomics of importation? A falling dollar reduces or eliminates any potential savings, especially since the CBO’s studies. With gigantic budget deficits and debt as far as the eye can see, it seems unlikely that we will see a strong U.S. dollar anytime soon. See http://www.drugchannels.net/2009/03/more-on-drug-importation-economics.html.

Consider: Currency fluctuations have turned the UK from the biggest importer of parallel trade products into the biggest exporter — along with accompanying shortages. (http://www.drugchannels.net/2009/01/parallel-trade-and-uk-drug-shortages.html)

While I recognize that importation would help your personal business, it may be quite foolish and short-sighted public policy.

Adam

Adam,

Thanks for your comment. However…

There are no “well-documented” or “significant” safety issues with ordering medications from licensed Canadian pharmacies. Give me specific examples of Americans harmed by ordering drugs from licensed pharmacies, please.

As for your macroeconomics case, it sounds like Big Pharma has nothing to fear financially then. So they can stop fighting reimportation now.

And you’re going to take the time and space to point out that reimportation would help my small business — without pointing out that Big Pharma’s opposition is specifically for the purpose of continuing to line its pockets.

Way to look out for the Big Guys, Adam. We obviously don’t already have enough politicians and corporations doing that.

Cary

Yup, that’s why I do what I do. Defending the defenseless, protecting the disenfranchised corporations that have been abandoned by their very own consumers: the pharmaceutical company, the logger, the sweatshop foreman, the oil driller, the land mine developer, the baby seal poacher…

There may be a future for you on the Fox Business Network 😉

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