Thursday, December 30, 2004

No Cure for Stupidity 

Look, the idea of making drugs in America, shipping them to Canada, and then buying them back to America from Canada was pretty dumb in the first place. But some people are happy to sell snake oil, so we all waste time trying to convince the happily converted that Canada is not the world's biggest source of "cheap-o-rays".

Thankfully, if there's one thing Canada is good at, it's going bananas over Americans acting in their self-interest (even if the plan doesn't actually work). The most obvious result of Americans flocking to buy sold-in-Canada, made-in-America drugs is that Canada will run out of drugs. So Ujjal Dosahjh, the Health Minister, has flatly told the US to stay out of our medicine cabinet.

Yet I wonder if the long-term ramifications of this news is actually beneficial to anyone. Drug companies may be swimming in profits, but it's profits built upon an increasingly unsustainable and socially unbeneficial foundation: imitation drugs for non-deadly conditions. You know, the drugs that are featured in all that spam you get in your mailbox these days. Instead of developing new treatments for Parkinson's and ALS, drug companies are stifled by the FDA and patent process into developing ED drugs and marginally better cold tablets.

Most drug markets in the world are heavily government regulated in pricing or profit margins. And I'm not talking about Third World countries: this is Canada and the EU and other well-off places that have similar costs of living to the US and can actually afford more expensive drugs. The result, unsurprisingly, is that the largest burden of drug costs are on Americans. A US scheme to reimport Canadian drugs, and the corresponding failure to accomplish its objectives, might cause enough of a shock to do two things:

Instead, we have now probably only convinced a small proportion of the pro-reimportation ostriches into realizing the folly of their scheme, while the rest of the developed world continue to get away with paying pennies for drugs at Americans' expense.
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