Big Pharma including Turing Pharmaceuticals and its former CEO Martin Shkreli have used public protection legislation as a weapon against vulnerable patients – and all lawmakers can do is beg them to stop. Yet the solution for consumers with Bitcoin is, as is being proven, far simpler than many would imagine from the scenes in the press.
In September 2015, US drugs consumers found themselves in a familiar position – alienated from their social system by the very bureaucratic mechanisms created to protect them. Thanks to loopholes in the country’s patenting procedures, one sole profiteer was able to wreak havoc on an entire demographic of vulnerable patients – legally. State lawmakers seeking to defend patients’ lives from Turing Pharmaceuticals’ 5,556% price hike of an HIV drug quite literally ended up begging former CEO Martin Shkreli to make prices cheaper.
Enter Bitcoin, whose ability to dodge dysfunctional legislative environments is nothing new. From cutting the cost of a phone call to Kenya to mitigating the effects of an entire country’s economic instability, cryptocurrency combined with the eternal flexibility of the black market is a blessing for many an alienated “global citizen.”
For those previously disinterested in Bitcoin or parallel markets, however, the status quo only changes if a serious impetus makes change necessary. In light of the proceedings involving Shkreli, Bitcoin investor Roger Ver recently tweeted, saying the time has clearly come for US medical patients.
Stupid politicians forcibly forbid competition through the patent system, then act surprised when prices are high: https://t.co/9zrum4GGmF
— Roger Ver (@rogerkver) February 5, 2016
Shkreli had been subpoenaed to appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee February 4 following charges of securities fraud brought against him after his tenure at the company. The controversy he had created following his decision to raise the price of toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim from $13 to $750 USD a pill, however, did not go unnoticed at the hearing, following months of press coverage and political outrage.
“Essentially, Shkreli is exploiting rules devised to protect consumer safety in order to create a virtual monopoly and then charge whatever he wants,” James Surowiecki wrote in the New Yorker, “[…] But the fate of toxoplasmosis sufferers shouldn’t depend on the egomaniacal whims of a ‘pharma bro.’”
Having acted within the law regarding the price increase, however, Shkreli had the upper hand, refusing to answer any questions put to him and reducing the hearing to a farce.
“I want to plead with you to use any remaining influence you have over your former company to press them to lower the price of these drugs,” Congressman Elijah Cummings told Shkreli during the hearing. “Of course, you can ignore this if you like, but all I ask is that you reflect on it […] I beg that you reflect on it.”
After that, even Shkreli himself subsequently called the lawmakers at the hearing “imbeciles.”
Bitcoin: Vote with Your (Digital) Wallet
Pleading and begging, of course, will make no difference to the lives of those who depend on the synthesized substance available for as little as $1 USD a pill since 1953. Yet the scourge of US drugs legislation, as well as the generic drug manufacturing market, could yet serve to be a blessing to consumers willing to circumvent the system. The international market still overwhelmingly offers Daraprim, for example, at a fraction of the new US price.
A trustworthy source overseas – in a country such as the UK, where the drug retails for under $1 – is immediately alluring. Red tape such as prescriptions – and of course, financial considerations – would, in turn, be mitigated through the use of Bitcoin to realize this new “Silk Road 4.0” ecosystem, albeit for legal prescription and over the counter drugs.
The method has even been publicly advocated, with the blog of pharmaceuticals price comparison site PharmacyChecker noting among other resources that online pharmacies in the UK and elsewhere offer unit prices of $0.78 USD per pill.
If you’re curious about the possibilities of buying generic medication in the meantime, there are already online merchants accepting Bitcoin as payment, including The Swiss Pharmacy for a non-US option based in Geneva, Switzerland as well as Canada’s Canadabitcoinpharmacy.com.
Can Bitcoin be used to circumvent pharma’s monopolistic practices? Share and comment below!