ididntsaythatyousaidthat“What would you do if you got X disease?” I asked my friend who runs a medical division for one of the world’s largest companies.

“I’d move to Germany, where you can get the right medicine,” he replied.

Back in the 1970s and ‘80s Japanese regulators used to block American imports, often giving preposterous reasons: “Japanese intestines can’t digest apples from Seattle.” Or, “Japanese skiers would fall off skis made in Colorado.” These were silly, annoying excuses that prevented American exporters from earning extra money. But no one died because of those excuses. It’s different with medical regulations. In the U.S. today millions of patients pay too much for medicine or are blocked from accessing better drugs because of FDA regulations.

A few weeks Daraprim hit the headlines because a CEO decided to jack up the price of the parasite infection treatment  from $13.50 to $750 a tablet. Even Saturday Night Live mocked him, the show’s first foray into FDA matters. Daraprim is a generic medicine. So why wouldn’t other Daraprims immediately flood the market and slam down the price? Because the FDA moves slowly to approve generic drugs. A company with cheap Daraprim pills sitting on pallets in the port of Hamburg, Germany cannot simply send them to the U.S. on the next boat.

The same is true of non-generics. Even if a drug is used safely throughout Europe and approved by the European Medicines Agency, Americans cannot buy it unless the FDA goes through its own long, expensive protocol (for which the FDA collects millions of dollars). Last year a potentially lethal meningitis outbreak spread through Princeton University’s dorms. Princeton begged the CDC to beg the FDA to allow it to buy a common vaccine made by Novartis in Switzerland (Bexsero). Finally, the bureaucrats relented and let the students access the vaccine. Why can’t the FDA permit reciprocity with other advanced countries? Are European intestines different from ours? Do GE and Siemens have to customize their ultrasound probes to fit uniquely European waistlines? I don’t think so. Many of us are worried about “drug abuse” — we should also worry about “drug regulation abuse.”

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