Government Control of Internet Threatens Americans' Access to Affordable Drugs

Prescription drug costs are higher for Americans than for citizens of any other developed country.

Between 2004 and 2010, one out of every 10 dollars spent on healthcare went toward prescription drugs, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia. By comparison, prescription drugs accounted for only 4.7 percent of total U.S. health care expenditures in 1980 and just 5.6 percent in 1990. The means the share of U.S. healthcare costs spent on prescription drugs nearly doubled over a decade.

And the gap between U.S. consumer spending on prescription drugs and spending by citizens in other countries is increasing.

In 1995, the U.S. was spending $397 per capita on prescription drugs annually, while Canada was spending $342 per capita. In 2005, the U.S. was spending $790 per person per year, while Canada was spending $599. U.S. spending was the highest among all the countries studied.

Millions of Americans purchase prescription drugs online to save on drug costs. But these Americans face numerous hurdles, including official government condemnation of purchasing drugs online from licensed, legitimate pharmacies abroad.

Americans Buying Drugs Online Face Challenges

Importing prescription drugs, even small amounts for personal use, is illegal. Although the Food and Drug Administration does not strictly enforce provisions of the law that criminalize this activity, it is still technically illegal.

And this somewhat lax policy is endangered. Legislation pending in Congress would allow federal officials to seize and destroy prescription drugs imported for personal use valued at less than $2,500.

Drugs purchased from licensed pharmacies in Canada and elsewhere are the same brand name and generic drugs available at sky-high prices in U.S. brick-and-mortar pharmacies, yet they are stigmatized by the U.S. government. This is not because the drugs are unsafe; it is because the U.S. government is in bed with Big Pharma.

Even President Obama, who campaigned on the promise to support personal drug importation, caved to pharmaceutical industry lobbyists during negotiations over the health care reform bill. In return for the pharmaceutical industry’s support on the bill, the Obama Administration promised not to push for a provision that would allow for personal importation of prescription drugs. 

More details are coming to light about the extent to which U.S. government policies are intertwined with the profit-driven interests of the pharmaceutical drug industry. A series of emails detailed by the New York Times recently shows the length the Obama Administration was willing to go to win support on the bill. Obama’s health care adviser told a drug lobbyist that she and other top officials had “made decision, based on how constructive you guys have been, to oppose importation,” according to the article. “He said it was going to be the most open and honest and transparent administration ever and lobbyists won’t be drafting the bills,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said in the article. “Then when it came time, the door closed, the lobbyists came in and the bills were written,” he said. Burgess sits on the committee that is examining the deal.

This relationship enables large pharmaceutical companies to keep a firm grip on inflated drug prices in the United States.

The losers in this equation are American consumers who are struggling to afford their prescription medication. Some of this medication is lifesaving, and Americans forced to go without it can find themselves in danger.

Now, American consumers are being attacked on another front – the actual ability to access online pharmacies.

There is a disturbing emerging trend of governments seeking to assert more control over the Internet. And this isn’t just true in countries where governments are renowned for cracking down on citizens’ freedoms such as in the Middle East – it is happening in the United States.

Increased government control over the internet threatens Americans’ access to safe, affordable drugs.

State Department Adviser Warns Against Government Control of Internet

This trend of governments asserting more control over the internet is being recognized by officials within the U.S. government.

A senior adviser to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Alec Ross, recently told an audience in London that governments, including the U.S. government, pose the greatest threat to online innovation. According to an article in the Guardian, governments worldwide are poised to “lash back” to regain control over the internet.

This further threatens Americans already restricted access to safe drugs.

This was already evidenced when the Justice Department forced Google to pay a $500 million settlement for allowing online pharmacies to advertise on the popular search engine. The government lumped legitimate pharmacies with unlicensed, rogue pharmacies, essentially throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Governments are threatening online innovation, Ross said. This innovation includes online businesses that provide Americans access to more affordable drugs.

 “The biggest threat to your ability to innovate actually comes from government, and I say that from Hillary Clinton’s office in the state department,” he said. “I think you all need to fear governments seeking to control our networks, seeking to take away your internet freedom.” Ross was speaking at the Le Web London conference.

Internet advocacy groups have been warning about this trend over the past several months.

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