October 17, 2016

The Prescription Coalition

Bruce Yandle

Distinguished Adjunct Fellow
Summary

It remains to be seen if state legislators can sharply limit opioid prescription activity while giving cancer victims access to much-needed medication.

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It could be that competition in the political arena where regulations are written and revised may be more important to businesses and organized interest groups than competition in the marketplace, where consumers search for lower prices and higher quality goods. And when the struggle brings in higher-ground public interest groups to support profit-making manufacturing – a coalition of "bootleggers and Baptists," as has been explained here at U.S. News before – unexpected things can happen.

Recent struggles over regulatory attempts to lower the explosive flow of opioids is a case in point. It is well known that the opioid addiction epidemic is a killer. Much of the damage is associated with the rampant writing of opioid prescriptions, where a few doctors specialize in writing opioid prescriptions. In 2015, 227 million opioid prescriptions were written, an amount that would provide a bottle of pills for nine out of 10 adults. And that is just one source for the drugs. There are also illegal opioid producers working to supply an addicted population. Some 165,000 Americans have succumbed to the addiction.

Until recently, when the Center for Public Integrity released its report on the topic, what may not have been so well known is that the pharmaceutical industry has spent $880 million on nationwide lobbying since 2006 in a fight to stop state regulation that would set limits on prescription-writing activities, some eight times more than the gun lobby spent in pursuit of its national interests during the same period.

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