Should drug company execs get life in prison for their predatory pricing that endangers our lives?

Illegal drug dealers, who are designated as major suppliers, will face the electric chair or gas chamber if President Donald Trump has his way. Our sometimes alert members of Congress voice agreement, now suddenly aware that criminals who sell opioids, like heroin and oxycodone, deserve more than slap-on-wrist fines or jail time.

Don’t bet on the death penalty just yet for these creatures. With decades of litigation possible, it’s easier to prescribe life in prison.

Martin Shkreli, smug former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals LLC

And speaking of prescribing, when are we going to deal with the legal drug dealers, whose companies have priced life-saving medicine in the stratosphere, so that only the very rich, or those with golden health plans, are able to afford?

An illegal drug dealer who hooks 200 victims deserves their fate.

A legal drug dealer who ruins the lives of millions deserves no less a prison term.

Which brings me to the example of Hepatitis C and the story of Marsha Lecour, who contracted the condition when she was four, after open heart surgery that exposed her to contaminated blood. Lecour is a native of Canada, the only nation, other than the U.S., which doesn’t have government-provided prescription drugs, where there is national healthcare for everything else.

It wasn’t until decades later, when she was in her 30s, that a blood test revealed she had a virus attacking her liver.

“The doctor said that I would probably require a liver transplant,” she said. “I’d never even heard of hepatitis, and never mind a liver transplant.”

Five years ago, at 60, her liver specialist at Toronto’s University Health Network started Lecour on a medicine combination that would treat the disease. And she was completely cured – thanks to an “excellent” work benefit plan that covered the insanely high costs of the drug. Otherwise, she doesn’t know what she would have done.

In a recent presentation to the World Hepatitis Summit in Brazil, drug cost researcher Andrew Hill said that nations, who provide free prescription drugs, are worried about supplying their citizens with the same hepatitis cure as Lecour.

“People are not getting the treatments they need,” Hill said. “Governments are saying, ‘This is too expensive,’ and they’re not treating everybody.”

Hill predicted that 90 per cent of the world’s 71 million Hepatitis C patients can now be cured in 12 weeks, at a cost of about $50 US per patient, by using a combination of drugs called Sofosbuvir and Daclatasvir. But Hill said his research showed the price charged by drug makers in Canada for a 12-week course of treatment is about $77,000. In the U.S., the brand name price has skyrocketed to nearly $148,000, he explained.

“The enormous difference between what the drugs cost to make and the profits garnered by pharmaceutical companies not only makes the cure for Hepatitis C too expensive for patients — it could also discourage government health agencies from conducting widespread screening for the virus,” Hill said.

“There are some governments that are too worried about producing a massive bill, that if they tested large numbers of people, they then have to spend tens of thousands dollars on curing each one of those people. And they just don’t have that kind of money.”

Dr. Jordan Feld, of the Toronto Center for Liver Disease at the University Health Network and the specialist who treated Lecour, said Hepatitis C is “a huge public health problem” and it’s disappointing to hear that the virus may not be eliminated in the next 13 years — a goal he believes is achievable.

“Unfortunately, Hepatitis C is highly over-represented in marginalized populations and some of these people just don’t have as strong a political voice,” Feld said.

“To be perfectly honest, if this was an infection that affected an upper middle class, wealthy population, I don’t think we would be having this discussion about not addressing Hepatitis C,” he said.

The 2017 list price for the combination of drugs used by Lecour ranges from $78 in India, close to cost price ($50), some $174 in Egypt, to $6,000 in Australia, $77,000 in the UK, and that staggering $148,000 in the USA

Citizens for Tax Justice, 2016

Americans are being played for fools by their government, as other nations regulate medicine prices to benefit their citizens, not their drug execs.

Medical devices are in the same category, with $30 stents selling for $10,000 to the patient. On top of the heap are the insurance companies, who profit most when they base their percentage premiums on the highest healthcare expenses.

Unlike Tweet Trump, I don’t advocate the death penalty for major criminal illegal dealers. They deserve a life sentence, along with those legal drug dealers, who cause misery and death by charging $148,000 for a drug that costs about $50 to produce.

Free-for-all capitalism does have major downfalls, and exploitation of the weak by the strong is exemplified by predatory drug pricing. Meanwhile, a lobbyist-controlled Congress seems obsessed with saving money by cutting public services and lowering business taxes. And they once again are calling for cuts to Medicare and Social Security to pay for the tax law changes required by their wealthy sponsors.

Here’s a plan to save money. And on just one disease – Hepatitis C.

  • Price to cure 3.5 million American hepatitis victims at $50 each = $175 million.
  • Price to cure 3.5 million American customers at $150,000 each = $525 billion.
  • Net savings by regulating “free” legal drug market just this one time: $518 billion.

That equals about 84% of the 2019 annual local and state budgets ($616 billion) for all American public elementary and high schools.

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