Project 21 New Visions

 

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.

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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 [email protected].

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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