Thursday, October 20, 2011

Red Herring re Drug Shortages

NBC Nightly News ran a program on October 17, 2011 about how the current drug shortage problem is being exacerbated by profiteers who are buying up available supplies of drugs in shortage and reselling to hospitals at exorbitant prices. There is no question that this price gauging is deplorable. But it is a red herring in my opinion. It shifts the focus away from the real issue which is why are there such extensive drug shortages in the first place. Why has our drug supply system fallen apart such that seriously ill patients cannot get the drugs they need to survive?

The program started with the right message i.e. the current drug shortages are harming children with leukemia as well as other cancer patients. The program properly focused on the fact that shortages will roll back years of progress in survival rates and children's lives  (as well as others) will be lost.  But NBC Nightly News, like the Congressional response thus far, took the left turn toward focusing on those who would profit from these drug shortages by price gauging rather than keeping the focus on the pharmaceutical companies who have caused the drug shortages in the name of maximizing their  profit.

Price gouging is a much easier target for a solution than the capitalist functioning of the pharmaceutical industry.  Only a few diehard conservative economists will justify price gouging but it is a harder sell to talk about regulating an industry to require them to make less profitable drugs solely to save people's lives.  It is a particularly hard sell in Washington D.C. where the pharmaceutical industry trade association PHRMA and individual drug companies are spending record amounts in lobbying this year.

So let's not be distracted by the predators who will feed on the horrible situation of the drug shortage. Let's keep our eye on the real problem and try to make the drug companies accountable for the drug shortages that are only getting worse.

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