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How’s Business?: Costly drugs’

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The other day I was at a drugstore in Flushing standing in line behind an old woman who was picking up her prescription. The cashier told her it was $171.49. The old woman pulled some crumpled bills from her purse to pay for the prescription. She had no drug insurance and had to pay the full amount.

In listening to the conversation, the prescription was for just seven pills to be taken once daily. That’s $24.50 a day and could actually be one-third to one-half of this woman’s monthly Social Security check. Americans pay more for prescription drugs than do the citizens of any other nation in the world, so it should be no surprise that the pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable business in the United States.

With more than 1 million Americans purchasing their drugs in Canada, you may very well find many Queens residents with their eyes pointed north of the border. But you cannot openly push Canadian sales since it is illegal, because the Food and Drug Administration claims that drugs in Canada may be unsafe.

But if that were true, are they unsafe for Canadians? Canadians seem to be taking them and are doing just fine. Here’s the story. Drugs in Canada are cheaper than those in the United States (to the tune of half the price) because drug companies in Canada must observe government price controls.

We like to think that the many different drugs produced by the likes of Merck, Wyeth and Eli Lilly, to name a few, are solely produced in the Unites States. Well, let’s take a look at Pfizer. Sixty of its manufacturing sites are in 32 different countries. Its anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor is actually manufactured in Ireland and then sent to the United States and Canada.

Is our government telling us that the drugs sent from Ireland to Canada are inferior to those sent to the United States, which include known names such as Zocor, Prevacid and the famous acid reflux pill Nexium? What do you think?

Could another contributing factor be that we are the only industrialized country in the world without a form of control regarding the price of drugs?

This safety issue sounds like nothing less than absurdity. It is time for Congress to get out of bed in reconsidering legislation that would legalize Canadian drugs and at the very least take the burden off our senior citizens.

So how’s business for the drug industry? All I can say is that is must be nice to have a business in a very vital industry where you need to answer to no one in determining pricing against need.

Joe Palumbo is the fund manager of The Palco Group Inc., an investment company, and can be reached at palcogroup@aol.com or 718-461-8317.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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