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Drugs on the Market

Jul 25, 2008
An interesting concatenation of reports came across my radar on the same day recently:

The pharmaceutical lobby (the largest in a crowded field) spent $168 million dollars lobbying Congress in 2007, 32 percent more than in 2006. This increase was probably owing to the Democratic takeover of Congress, and the subsequent hearings chaired by the new guys on drug issues. (I wonder sometimes whether those hearings aren’t intended to prime the pump for lobbying and campaign expenditures rather than to develop real reforms. More than $6.8 million of the $14.4 million the industry contributed to campaigns in 2006 went to members of the three committees that “regulate” the industry, according to the article.) There are several more eyebrow-raising facts about the questionable relationships among the drug companies, Congress, and the FDA (such as the fact that drug companies fund over a quarter of the FDA's budget), but I'll leave you to read about them in the article (link below).

Meanwhile, we in the U.S. spent $286.5 billion last year for prescription drugs, marching to the beat of a 20-fold increase in direct-to-consumer advertising over the past decade. That figure amounted to $29.9 billion in 2005, according to a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine.1

Chump change, when you look at the flipside: the trade in what our paternalistic government has deemed “illicit” drugs. No one knows the global proceeds from illegal drugs, with estimates ranging from $100 billion to a whopping $1 trillion. The U.S. will spend $14 billion dollars in FY 2008 (and more every year after that) in the losing battle to keep drugs out of the U.S. We spent almost $400 million on crop eradication in Colombia and Afghanistan alone in 2006. I leave it to you to decide whether it was $400 million well spent.

The CRS report, which is available here at OpenCRS, a project of the Center for Democracy and Technology, describes in detail the methods used by the U.S. to stop the drug trade in the U.S. The libertarian in me wonders why we don’t just legalize them all, and devote a tiny fraction of what we are spending to keep them out of the country to treat those individuals who succumb to an addiction. That tiny fraction could easily be made up by taxing the drugs the way we tax the legal killers, alcohol and tobacco. At the very least, marijuana should be legalized and taxed, and that alone could underwrite our continuing unsuccessful efforts to control debilitating substances such as heroin. The liquor lobby has been stunningly successful in associating marijuana with these dangerous substances; however, the research is clear that alcohol (and tobacco) are far more addictive and costly to our economy and to our people than is marijuana.2
1A Decade of Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs,” by Julie M. Donohue, Ph.D., et al., volume 357, number 7, pp. 673-681 (Accessed July 20, 2008)
2Health Education: Marijuana at Brown University (Accessed July 20, 2008)
tags: Health | Politics

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