The Bush Administrations recent plan to make prescription drug abuse a main focus of the National Drug Control Strategy reveals just how embedded the government has become in the personal medical decisions of the American people.
The plan includes new state surveillance agencies that monitor prescription drug users to ensure they arent fishing for pushover physicians to prescribe unneeded pharmaceuticalsas well as multi-million dollar web crawling technology to seek out online drug companies that illegally sell controlled drugs.
The idea of Big Brother spying on your visits with your doctor may frighten you. But this isnt the first time police-state tactics have been used against the healthcare choices of patients to enforce the governments version of good medicine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency that decides the legal status of drugs, has a history of pulling out the big gunsliterally.
In 1987, more than two dozen FDA agents and U.S. Marshals, enforcing vitamin regulations, smashed into the office building of the Life Extension Foundation with a battering ram, aimed guns at the employees inside, and confiscated half a million dollars in vitamins, computers, merchandise, literature, and personal belongings. After years of legal battles and the FDAs admission of numerous unlawful actions, including agent Martin Katzs perjured testimony to obtain the search warrant, the agency finally backed down.
In May of 1993 FDA agents raided the home of Kirwin Whitnah, aiming guns at a woman staying there, all because Whitnah promoted the sale of Deprenylan FDA approved drug used to reduce brain degradation in Parkinsons patientsand the agency considered this the same as illegally selling it. No Deprenyl was found, no one was charged with a crime, but agents still seized Whitnahs computer, business records, mailing list, and $4,500 in money orders.
The FDA has even terrorized people over pet food. To enforce regulations on pet food labels, an FDA agent in 1990 seized merchandise from Sissy McGill and shut down her pet store, all without a warrant. The government put her in leg irons at her trial, fined her $10,000, and confined her to a maximum security prison for nearly six months, where she nearly died of a stroke. Interesting policy for an agency that ostensibly protects the health of Americans.
There are dozens of similar FDA horror stories. Few people expected these terrifying police raids to arise from FDA regulation of pharmaceuticals. We cant predict what similarly frightening unintended consequences will arise from a federal surveillance program to spy on you when you go to the doctor.
To justify the need for new, extreme measures against prescription drug abuse, the White House cites a study that shows prescription drugs, as a group, are more abused than any illegal drug other than marijuana. This comparison raises some questions.
First, how does the FDA define abuse? The agency declares all marijuana use abuse, and non-medicinal. It also sets standards on what prescription drugs can be used for, which doctors often ignore. A General Accounting Office study found that 56 percent of cancer patients receive medicines for unapproved reasons. The FDA simply cant keep up with medical science, and Americas doctors find that prescribing drugs for off-label uses saves lives. Should the FDAs dictates override the millions of citizens who voted to legalize medical marijuana, and the thousands of doctors who prescribe medicines in politically incorrect ways?
Second, considering that billions of tax dollars are spent annually to imprison tens of thousands of marijuana smokersand yet more people still abuse this totally banned substance than all prescription drugs combinedcan we expect even the most draconian policies to curb prescription drug abuse?
The history of FDA raids and the failures in American drug policy demonstrate that the governments policies on prescription drugs, taken to the extreme, are no more sane and no less violent than its war on illegal drugs. Regulation of all drugslegal and illegalbegins with a flawed political process and ultimately relies on armed police raids. Expanding police and surveillance powers to stop prescription drug abuse, regardless of the amount of force or money used and the number of victims, will likewise fail just as such measures have failed to stop marijuana abuse.
The U.S. should abandon its failed drug war policies, not expand them. Medical treatment should be a personal matter, to be decided by patients and doctors. The liberties and money saved will be far greater than any benefits from the paternalistic prescription police that Bush plans to sick on Americas ill and addicted.
|Anthony Gregory is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and the author of American Surveillance: Intelligence, Privacy, and the Fourth Amendment (University of Wisconsin Press for the Independent Institute). His previous book, The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the King's Prerogative to the War on Terror, won the 2013 PROSE Award for Best Book in Law and Legal Studies.|
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