By Meredith White
I read an article on NPR News about the Blue Ribbon Panel urging for pharmaceuticals around the globe to fight the selling of counterfeit and substandard drugs. These drugs are a problem both in developing countries and in the Western world. You can Google various prescription medications online and find a way to purchase it. The truth is most of these are fake or made by someone unqualified to do so. They are often mixed with other ingredients to make it cheaper, which can be harmful to the consumer. In the developing world they could be sold illegally on the street, in markets. Those selling these drugs might not have any education on the subject.
Where I differ with the Blue Ribbon Panel is how to handle this problem. Their recommended approach is to stop the seller. In the article it said the problem is that it is a business with a lot of financial potential. They want to regulate the factories and keep them within standards. But is this really the root of the problem? What is making this a lucrative business?
I believe that to stop counterfeit prescription medications from being sold we need to prevent the consumers from having a reason to buy them from these sources. They wouldn’t be looking for these drugs if safe legal drugs were accessible and affordable. In Western countries, pharmaceuticals have become increasingly profit driven and decreasingly care driven. While some may say these drugs are fairly priced, that is looking at the drugs as products rather than medication. Most the people saying that medications are not overpriced are those who have the financial resources available to afford them. In developing countries it is as a result of lack of education and accessible basic needs such as medical care and pharmacies.
Pharmaceuticals should work to make drugs more affordable by increasing the availability of generic drugs. While they aren’t free, generic drugs cost much less than brand name drugs. One major problem is that brand name drugs have a patent on the drug that lasts for 20 years. This gives the company full control over the market for that drug, so there isn’t competition from other companies to drive the price down. Once the patent runs out, the formula for the drug is released and other companies can compete for market share and lower the price with generic forms. One of the potential arguments with letting the 20 yr. patent stand is that some may argue that the developer of the drug should be able to enjoy financial benefits. However, this implies that they should be able to enjoy huge financial gains even though it will come at the cost of not providing the best potential care for those in need. Some may think this is okay, but generally pharmaceutical companies will be highly profitable regardless and in trade for making less off of the drugs they develop, they will be able to sell more generic drugs. In addition, the drug may be able to reach more people in need and create a larger market. To allow the original developer to have financial benefits for developing the drug, the competing companies could be required to give a small percent of their profits for the first 10 years of them selling that drug.
Lack of health insurance has also played a role. Even though medication isn’t free, if you have health insurance, most medications will be reduced to a reasonable price. But for those who aren’t covered, even the reduced price generic drugs can be costly. This will often lead them to try to buy it online to reduce the price, or not receive care at all.
In the developing world the problem is attributable to lack of economical resources. There is lack of education to train future medical professionals, often widespread malnutrition which can stunt brain development and mass amounts of poverty. In many areas modern healthcare is effectively unavailable. To those in remote rural areas the closest medical center can be miles away. They rely on self-declared medicine men that if they are lucky may have received training as an apprentice. Many of those educated in the field are working in western countries. This makes developing their own pharmacy and medical system more difficult and overly reliant on foreign aide.
Health should not be a product for purchase; it should be a human right. As such, so should medications. If there were affordable and accessible medication to all, counterfeit and substandard drugs would not be an issue. The boom in this business is another result of the lack of health care available in many parts of the world either out of cost or lack of a stable system. While disparities will always be present between socioeconomic classes, there is a moral responsibility to provide basic human rights such as health care.