Wednesday, February 19, 2014

'Dallas Buyers Club' concept metastasizes

Though it may sound like a spin-off of the Oscar-nominated movie Dallas Buyers Club, this PBS News Hour report about the black market in prescription drugs out of Mexico really has more to do with inflated pharmaceutical prices and the failure of states like Texas to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. The story opens:
In borderland Texas, a widespread lack of health insurance is linked to poverty and high rates of diseases such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

Cheaper prescription drugs to treat these conditions are available across the border in Mexico. But physicians and law enforcement are tracking a relatively new trend — the smuggling of medicine in bulk from Mexico to U.S. patients who no longer feel safe shopping for them in Mexico.

Mexican Pharmacist Jorge Sandoval says people who buy his medicines these days often buy for people they don’t even know.

“There’s a trade in legal prescription medication,” he said in Spanish from his shop in Chihuahua, Mexico, about an hour south of the border. “The trade is generated by people (in both countries) who want to buy medicine at a lower price. People are bringing in ice chests to fill with medicines that they sell to friends and relatives.”

About 24 percent of Texans have no medical insurance, the highest percentage of uninsured in the nation. And although Texas has some of the highest enrollments in the new health care marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act, the numbers represent a small fraction of the overall uninsured.

That’s one reason why, for years, people have crossed the border for cheaper medicine. The diabetes medicine Metformin is $35 a month here and $15 in Mexico. The blood thinner Coumadin is $60 a month here, $15 there.

But what’s new here is a cottage industry of smugglers buying medicines in bulk to bring back to the U.S.
In the movie Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey's character sought out AIDS drugs from Mexico because of approval delays at the FDA. These days, the practice has become more common and generalized, with folks bringing everyday medications into the country illegally because of inflated prices barring access to medication by the uninsured.

When black markets occur for legal commodities - especially ones that don't get you high - it's an indictment of government-sanctioned oligopolies controlling distribution and price. Drug companies on the US side are making a fortune from this over-charging, subsidized by friendly government regulators and now gun wielding law enforcement officers. Don't police have anything better to do than arrest folks for getting legal, prescribed drugs to sick people who need them at a cost they can actually afford?


Anonymous said...

That's only assuming the government is by and for the people. It clearly is not in Texas.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The feds too, fwiw.

Anonymous said...

My wife's best friend is a police woman and she recently attended meetings with the DEA and in those she says that several agents "jokingly" asserted that the main reason why they want local police departments to crack down on narcotic pain pills was so drug dealers could sell more heroin. They said that Afghanistan had increased its supply 1000 fold since the war began over there and that there was a huge glut in the market here that had forced prices down to their lowest in history. I do not believe we can any longer trust the current government and have had a 180 degree change in my thinking about the drug war. You do a great service here and I am amzaed daily at what I read.

Anonymous said...

News flash, metformin is on Wally marts list of $4.00 for a month's supply.


Phillip Baker said...

Both the Afghan oversupply and the emerging black market in prescription drugs show the fallacy of criminalizing things people want and will get no matter what. Want to destroy the cartels? Decriminalize the drug trade. Those billions in cartel profits will wither within months and with it the violence that goes side by side. Then, once the idiotic "War on Drugs" is gone, maybe we can talk regulation of Big Pharma and really cut our healthcare costs.

Anonymous said...

I am from Kerrville, and the rule of thumb for the local Dr.s is to prescribe a narcotic pain pill only as a last resort no matter how severe the patient's pain my be. When a pain pill is prescribed, the medicine will almost always be in the form of some kind of mild opiate like Hydrocodon in Vicodin doses with at least 325 milligrams of Tylenol per pill. The opiate portion is so small that it is far from dangerous, but the Tylenol will destroy a patient's liver and is far from safe in the long term or short term. The Dr.s are afraid of the DEA and local law enforcement, and the net result is that people WILL find a way to deal with severe pain, for instance - borrow the neighbor's pills, drink whiskey until oblivion sets-in, or maybe score little Heroin. Heroin, is easy to get and relatively cheap, but the nasty mess is deadly as Hell. Basically, if the Doctors would do their job, many problems could be averted. There is absolutely no reason, with modern medicine, for a patient to experience pain. Being sick or hurt is bad enough without having to unnecessarily fight the pain.