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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

Prescription Drug Costs

November 22, 2003

To be indelicate (honest) about it, I am a drug smuggler and my petty larceny was premeditated. I peeled the label off an extinguished bottle of antibiotic capsules and pasted it in my notebook before leaving to visit a country in Southeast Asia. The druggist there simply asked, "What do you want?" "Amoxicillin, 500 mg., 30 pieces," I replied. The unreported transaction took roughly two minutes.

I have no beef with my HMO but when I get a sinus infection from one of my students who braves a feverish cold to be in class, I already know how to handle it. Compliments of a physician and pharmacist who steal three hours of my time and $35 from my not-too-deep pocket.

Here's the point. The bottle from which the antibiotic came said "Switzerland." I trust the folks who make such fine watches. But I paid $2.50 in Asia and every hand that touched that bottle made money: the producer, customs, the wholesaler and the retailer. The only thing driving drug sales in the U.S. is unrestrained greed. The country I visited is not rich, and perhaps a little profit at every step is more acceptable there.

Medicare is a farce when seniors travel to Mexico and Canada -- let alone Asia -- to get drugs they desperately need at prices that allow them to also afford food.

Tom Sloss

Fountain Valley

*

While The Times did an admirable job highlighting the problem of prescription drug prices in the U.S. (editorial, Nov. 6 and "Canada Doesn't Deserve These Vial Accusations," Commentary, Nov. 14), your focus on reimportation from Canada didn't get to the root of the problem here.

The truth is, our senior citizens are forced to take quarterly pilgrimages to our northern neighbor because American pharmaceutical companies are spending wildly to promote their most expensive drugs and then passing the bill on to consumers.

In a state where financial audits are all the rage, it's time that we open the books of our pharmaceutical companies. Despite industry claims that research is driving costs through the roof, studies have shown that pharmaceutical firms often spend more, and sometimes twice as much, money promoting their products as researching them.

Last session, the state Legislature failed to pass two bills that would address these problems. AB 103 requires companies to report the gifts that they lavish on medical officials and AB 262 prevents them from buying access to doctors' prescribing patterns. Let's make sure the industry's influence doesn't keep legislators from passing this critical legislation in January.

Emily Clayton

California Public Interest Research Group

San Francisco

*

Instead of importing cheaper drugs from Canada, we would do well to import its health-care system. According to a General Accounting Office report, if the universal coverage and single-payer features of the Canadian system, which includes prescription drug coverage, were applied in the U.S., the savings in administrative costs alone would be enough to finance health insurance coverage for the (currently 43 million) Americans without it.

John F. Glass

Studio City

*

The reason Americans pay more for medications than anybody else in the world has something to do with the fact that in 2000 George W. Bush and other Republican candidates received tens of millions in campaign contributions from the U.S. pharmaceutical lobby. Perhaps this has something to do with why the Bush administration opposes allowing American senior citizens and others to purchase their medication in Canada at substantially lower prices.

Perhaps the millions from the pharmaceutical lobby have something to do with why the Bush administration opposes the legalization of marijuana for medical use -- even for sick and dying patients. Perhaps U.S. drug czar John P. Walters should go Canada to seek drug policy advice instead of giving it.

Kirk Muse

Mesa, Ariz.

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