The Daily Gamecock

Column: FDA regulation to blame for drug prices

On Thursday, a congressional committee spent an hour interrogating the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, Martin Shkreli, about his decision to hike the price of the drug Daraprim approximately 5,000 percent from $13.75 per pill to $750. The hearing ended early after Shkreli refused to say anything in response to the series of questions focusing on his unethical behavior, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination (it's important to note that he's currently facing other charges from an unrelated matter). He smirked and laughed throughout the meeting, tweeting afterward that his only regret was that he forgot to bring his Game Boy.

Shkreli certainly seemed to be doing his best to live up to the title of "most hated man in America," which he originally earned after the previously mentioned price surge in an antiviral drug used to treat potentially fatal toxoplasmosis infections in cancer patients and those with HIV / AIDS. The hike was seen as symbolic of the greedy medical industry and its out of control prices. Liberals across the country, including here at The Daily Gamecock, have called for increased regulation of "Big Pharma" as a necessary solution to this problem. These individuals are correct that this case is an emblematic microcosm of what is plaguing the American healthcare industry, but not in the way they think.

The patent for Daraprim expired in 1970, which should allow other companies to produce a generic version of the drug and compete with Turing Pharmaceuticals. This competition between generic medications is why the prices for drugs like ibuprofen are so low — Advil, Motrin, Aleve and many more all sell the same or similar drugs. Consumers then get to choose between brands, purchasing their favorite based on things like price and quality.

This is exactly how Daraprim works pretty much everywhere else in the world. Pyrimethamine, the chemical name for Daraprim, can be purchased in England for as low as 62 cents per pill. In Australia it's even cheaper, about 18 cents per dose. If you're willing fly to Brazil or India, a pill of pyrimethamine is available for about a dime.

In the United States, however, regulations from the Federal Drug Administration have prevented other companies from entering the market. It's against federal law to import those cheap pyrimethamine pills from other countries, even for personal use. If someone else wanted to start making it here in the U.S., they'd have to pay the FDA more than 20 million dollars and wait more than four years for their version of the drug, which would be identical to the pyrimethamine already sold in the U.S. as Daraprim, to be reviewed by the government and approved for sale.

If not for these restrictions, the American price of pyrimethamine before the price hike would have resembled the low prices paid by the rest of the world. And if some snarky CEO decided to dramatically raise the price no one would care — consumers would simply switch to the competing brands. The company would lose business, and the CEO would be fired.

"Big Pharma" in the United States is only able to charge such high prices because of regulations making it difficult, if not impossible, for other companies to enter the market. Well-intentioned laws and government bureaucracy meant to protect consumers are what created this monopoly in the first place. Passing more governmental restraints will only add fuel to the raging pyre that is our healthcare system.