Friday, December 18, 2009

Running Away To Canada. Again.

An American's Journey North For Cheaper Drugs

Some forty years ago, Dave Jacobs, a native Long Islander still in his teens, ran away to the Canadian north. It was the turbulent 60s. The Vietnam war was raging. Young men were dying. And like thousands of other American boys who, out of conscience, not cowardice, believed that the war was immoral and the draft unjust, Dave fled to Canada.

Settling, for a time, on Vancouver Island, marrying, and beginning to raise a son, Dave longed to return to the America he had grown up in. The America he had loved, and left.

Dave's flight, today forgiven under amnesty, and historically, at least, understandable, if not laudable, was illegal. He was a draft dodger. An outlaw. In blatant violation of the laws of these United States of America.

Today, Dave Jacobs lives, once again, on Long Island, in the house once owned by his parents. He is a gentle, unpretentious man in his early sixties, now fighting another battle, this time, against Parkinson's Disease.

He doesn't talk much about the 60s, his move to Canada, or the Vietnam era. In fact, the Parkinson's has affected his speech to the point where Dave does not talk much at all, about anything, other than his grandchildren.

During the course of the day, Dave takes 6 different medications to help fight his illness. The daily cost of his prescription drugs was in excess of $100. You read that right.

And yes, we said "was," because, recently, Dave became an outlaw once more, fleeing to Canada in blatant violation of the laws of these United States of America.

Nowadays, he crosses the Canadian border, not by foot, under cover of darkness, but rather, via the Internet, from the comfort of his den. His flight is not to avoid the draft or the ravages of war, but to buy the drugs he needs to stay alive, at less than half the cost for the same medications available in this country.

Last week, the United States Senate narrowly rejected an Amendment to the health reform legislation that would have legalized the reimportation of drugs from Canada and other foreign countries. Drugs that American pharma sell internationally far below the cost we pay here at home. Drugs that are price-controlled elsewhere, but left to the free-market (read as, the whim of the drug companies) in the U.S.

One could argue, and with considerable merit, that legalizing the reimportation of drugs would be far from the panacea it is often said to be. Economists will tell you that the cost of drugs will necessarily rise elsewhere, including Canada, and that foreign governments may limit the reimportation of American-made drugs, increasing their price.

Of course, this begs the question of how American pharma can get away with selling a pill for $75 when that very same pill costs them a mere 15 cents to manufacture. Yes, we know. They're making up for the expense of R&D, and those failed meds that never made it to market. Surely, greed, and the power of the pharma lobby, with millions for lobbying but barely a dime to contain costs, have nothing to do with it.

For Dave Jacobs, the concern is not so much a matter of who is right -- in big pharma, in Washington, or, for all he cares, in Canada. It's a matter of being able to afford to stay alive.

We're with you, Dave. Godspeed!


  1. In the rush to find a villian to blame for the cost of health care, there's been much focus on insurance companies. Obviously, that's not without good reason. On the other hand "big pharma" has really gotten off pretty light in the court of public opinion and certainly in the halls of Washington. Companies like Merck, Bristol-Myers and Pfizer, among others, generate huge amounts of cash that they use, in part, to buy the political influence needed to ensure that they can continue to generate huge amounts of cash. None of these companies seem to be overly burdened with even a modest amount of corporate conscience. The fact that this money comes from the pockets of the ill, and that our elected representatives are in fact complicit with this rip-off, constitutes one of the most shameful aspects of our dysfunctional health care system.

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