I was in Rome recently, vacationing and reveling in the wonderful lifestyle Italy offers. I was also battling the remnants of a persistent cough (shared by many of my fellow New Englanders) born of a spring cold exacerbated by a higher-than-usual pollen count during some unseasonably hot days and excessive mold spores following heavy spring rains.
Discouraged at the amount of energy my cough was consuming, I visited a pharmacy in Rome and sought the pharmacist’s advice. He asked me what I had already taken and noted the medications I was normally prescribed, then suggested an over-the-counter item which I optimistically took that afternoon and for the next few days. Within three days my cough was subsiding: in a few more days it was gone. I even managed to fly home in the plane’s dry air without hacking. I called my local pharmacist on my return and brought in the package of the Italian cough remedy. It seems it is a simple formula that could easily be replicated here in the U.S.A. and even be sold without prescription,
But it isn’t, and the tragedy is it probably never will be. This is not my first such experience with effective European pharmaceutical products that really work and don’t cost a mortgage payment to buy. My frequent visits there and my fortunate language skills make me less hesitant than others might be to give Europe’s remedies a try. I have never been disappointed.
My experiences do make me wonder, however, why Congress doesn’t deal with the overbearing pharmaceutical lobby that holds Americans hostage to outrageous drug prices by allowing more European competitors into our market? If a drug hasn’t killed or harmed all the Swiss, French or Italians over the last decade it’s probably safe enough for Americans as well. Our own FDA certainly does not have a flawless safety record when it comes to approving U.S. drugs for American consumption.
Why not bring in what’s tried and true in Berlin, Madrid, or London? Despite the American myth that we live in “the greatest country on earth,” our bodies function in the same ways as the bodies of our European neighbors. If a pill doesn’t do damage to the European Union’s gastrointestinal tract or respiratory system, it won’t hurt the stomach or lungs of a guy in Dayton, Ohio either. Besides, the federal government has depended on bringing in foreign flu vaccines, bird flu preventatives, and even West Nile remedies when the U.S. could not or would not develop enough on its own. I suppose they cannot have it both ways, eschewing foreign drugs when it interferes with U.S. drug company profits (and therefore campaign contributions) and, on the other hand, buying such drugs to avoid U.S. government embarrassment and public health crises.
My guess is that reasonable Americans agree it is time to get serious about lowering prescription and non-prescription drug costs in the United States. Opening our pharmacies to legitimate European drugs with excellent safety records might be a good beginning.