The Poor Deserve
More Than Reimports
by Council Nedd II and Leslie O. Anderson
In the Bible, the Book of Proverbs
has a passage which reads, "a good person knows the rights
of the poor, but the wicked cannot understand such things."
The Gospel of St. Matthew talks about society's obligation to
the "the least of those among us." If we are to judge
our country by our government's treatment of the poor, what would
it say if we flooded urban pharmacies with potentially dangerous
imported prescription drugs?
There's nothing keeping a person
from going to a pharmacy to get a prescription filled. Often,
there is even a generic alternative that costs significantly
less for those who have trouble affording name-brand medicines.
Now, there are some in Congress and at the state level seeking
a third alternative - imported or reimported prescription drugs.
These drugs are cheaper because they come from other countries
that often do not have our stringent quality and safety standards.
Some lawmakers believe U.S.
consumers should have access to prescription drugs manufactured
for use or produced in other countries. Such importation raises
safety concerns due to the impossibility of identifying whether
they were mishandled, tampered with or even counterfeited. This
is because the drugs would have been outside the control of our
government's Food and Drug Administration.
Many people have already experienced
a small dose of what could happen under government-sponsored
drug importation. Consider the differences between drug stores
found in the suburbs as compared to their urban counterparts.
The shelves of the urban stores usually have barer shelves, dirtier
floors and surlier personnel than the ones in more affluent neighborhoods
outside of cities.
Cynics might say these stores
are a reflection of their communities. However, it's more accurate
to say these urban stores look the way they do because the owners
can get away with it. These dilapidated pharmacies can't be what
people want, can they? No, but they exist because people in these
neighborhoods do not feel empowered enough to insist on - and
thus marshal - the appropriate authority to receive appropriate
levels of service.
As it has been throughout the
whole of history, the wealthy tend to be able to purchase the
best products while the poor get what they can afford. In the
British Commonwealth, where government-run health insurance is
granted to all, the poor are last in line for non-emergency care
and surgeries. This is because the more well-to-do also have
private insurance to supplement the coverage already provided
by the state.
As in the book Animal Farm,
everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.
Will the poor have a choice
in the matter of drug importation, or will some perfunctory education
program be employed to ease the collective consciences of the
importation overseers? Supporters of prescription drug importation
admit their goal is no panacea. They will even say there is a
safety risk, but dismiss the concern because people are already
skirting the law and individually importing foreign drugs.
If someone buys drugs while
on a trip or from a site on the Internet, it's between them,
the postal inspector and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
But if government gets involved in the purchase and distribution
of potentially dangerous drugs, who determines which pharmacies
will sell these questionable drugs? These imports will most likely
end up either at drug stores in poor urban neighborhoods or sold
by mail order to unsuspecting Medicaid and Medicare patients.
Tampering with the nation's
drug importation laws is not good public policy or an effective
way to address the real problem of a lack of prescription drug
coverage for the poor.
Government has an obligation
of stewardship, and providing the underserved with potentially
dangerous pharmaceuticals is the worst sort of stewardship.
Council Nedd II is a member
of the black leadership network Project 21 and the executive
director of the Alliance for Health Education and Development.
Dr. Lesie O. Anderson is director of community, health and inner
city ministries emeritus for the Northern California Conference
of Seventh-Day-Adventists. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research.
Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries
reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those
of Project 21.
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