My friend the Drug Dealer

My friend is a drug dealer. The trade has been good to him. He has a beautiful home on the golf course, an expensive sports car, an SUV, a boat and a pair of personal watercraft. While his enterprise has faced growing competition over the last several years, he has a loyal local customer base that prefers to buy their product from him. This has allowed him finance many expensive trips, pay for his children’s education and live life comfortably. It has not always been this way. He had to work his way up in the drug game to get to where he is. He also won’t deny that he had a little help on his way. Government policy did a lot to make his drug enterprise more profitable than it otherwise would be.

My friend the drug dealer does not sell crack, smack, pot or meth, though Coke-a-cola can be found at his store. He is a registered pharmacist. His small business is known for it’s friendly service and for being a local institution for years. He did a lot of work to build it and keep it running and build a loyal customer base. He appreciates the value of hard work. As such, he is a life-long conservative. He does not want the money he has worked hard for redistributed to others. He does not want his wealth forcibly taken and given to people unwilling to work. Not that he isn’t generous, he just thinks private charities are better for this sort of thing. He sees redistributive policies and government intervention in the economy as theft, and a drag on working people.

He should know. After all his lush lifestyle was largely made possible by redistributive government intervention in the economy, very much at the expense of ordinary people. We have anything but a free market in pharmaceuticals. To become a registered Pharmacist, one needs to have get a four-year degree while meeting the prerequisites for pharmacy school or spend five or six years in a pharmacy school that offers all the coursework without the prerequisites. Needless to say this is five to six years of expensive education. But once you complete this the starting salary will be around 100-115 thousand dollars per year.

There are of course many drugs needed by people in ill health that one can only legally acquire from a registered pharmacist. The small minority of individuals with the professional distinction have a huge monopoly over many substances ordinary people need to live. This is the nature of the government’s licensing regime for pharmaceuticals. It undoubtedly drives up the price of medicine, and redistributes wealth from ordinary people to a small class of high dollar licensed specialists.

Maybe this government created monopoly of pharmacological elites is needed to ensure quality, but it definitely comes with a major cost. First of all, it drives up the price of the medicines in question. In a free market, any grocer could carry any drug a person in need could want over the counter. As such there would be far more competition and downward pressure on the price of medication. Even if some drugs still required a doctor’s prescription to purchase, removing restrictions on the ability to fill that prescription would be a positive development. It seems to me, that many pharmacists simply have their much less educated assistants fill many of the drug orders anyway. For the majority drugs out there a high paid pharmacist should not be required. Most could just as easily be filled by an assistant-level individual.

Of course things would be made even better for the consumer if we were to reform our nation’s archaic patent system, that has for years driven up the price of medication. Patents prevent countless drugs from going generic and ensure that a single company will have a monopoly on the formula for years to come. I have been told that it is common practice for companies to spend a huge amount of research dollars making redundant “copy cat” drugs, with different formula’s that cure the same ailments. This waste of research money allows companies to potentially compete with a patent protected competitor. A 2001 study found as many two-thirds of new drugs were “copy cats” of this kind. Patent protected drugs tend to cost 3 times more than generics, costing Americans as much as an $140 billion per year, according to one study.

Perhaps we need high priced pharmacists and patent-protected drugs to ensure high quality medications are available, but these would be necessary evils at best, and I doubt that they are necessary. Either way they are such a huge cost to the public that they should be subject to more debate rather than the unquestioning acceptance they are given by today’s politicians and media. A market in medicine, that subjected drug dealers and makers to real competition could potentially save ordinary people a great deal of money and difficulty.

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