Can the Internet Cure a Headache?

U.S. brand-name drug makers are moving briskly on two fronts to shore up what are already obscene profits. Their first target, our neighbors and perpetual allies to the North.

Thanks largely to the Internet, eh? Americans increasingly are buying from online Canadian pharmacies where, because of government-imposed price controls, drugs typically cost 30 percent to 50 percent less than in the United States.

But the Pfizers, the GlaxoSmithKlines, the Eli Lillys and the Bayers have persisted in finding loopholes to raise drug prices there according to the New York Times. In the kind of Butch Americana rhetoric that has won the hearts and minds of everyone from the Iraqis to the Germans, to the French, one drug maker tells the Times: "From now on, if the Canadians don't give us a price close to our United States price, I'm not selling it there."

Meanwhile, the drug makers have unleashed a major trade group, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, to pressure Web-based search engines to ban advertisements from unlicensed drug dealers.



While you may have a posse of "unlicensed drug dealers" on your street corner that could use a little pressuring too, in this case the Big Boys want to make sure that you pay full retail for your online purchases of Vicodin and OxyContin.

It is only a matter of time before our "pre-theater entertainment" includes vignettes of corner drug store pharmacists playing backyard chase with their dogs and whining about how buying drugs off the Internet doesn't hurt the manufacturers, but instead hurts his little store "that has been there for you for three generations" (not to mention "been there" for price increases that have outpaced inflation by geometric dimensions.)

It's kind of amazing that the Internet is still up isn't it? After all, its been Bad for the recording industry, Bad for the film industry, Bad for publishers who can't get anyone to pay for their content, Bad for bargain hunters since there is so much fraud on eBay, Bad for e mailers since spam is such a bother, Bad for children because they can access pictures of people have sex with farm animals, Bad for corporations since people can tell the entire world if they've received poor service or crappy merchandize, Bad for government since they can't "control" the press like in the good old Kennedy days, Bad for local retailers since online stores that often don't have to pay sales tax can undercut their pricing, Bad for automakers because buyers show up with print outs of invoice prices, dealer hold-back numbers and offers from showrooms three counties away. Now, clearly the Internet is bad for the drug companies.

Geez, about the only folks benefiting from the Web..are consumers. It wasn't too long ago that the only way people knew they were being ripped off was to make field trips to five or six retailers to compare prices on the shelves. Now, a few keystrokes and buyers are armed with enough information to know if in fact the "sales riot" is really just a hoax. How much faster and easier is it now to "build" a car or fall fashion the way you customized your Dell or Gateway?

The new consumer mindset is online research, and then buy. So, the drug companies can look at the Internet in two ways. 1) The evil electronic empire that reveals to buyers when and where you are jacking prices on them, or 2) The only medium in which to advertise that can put your message under a buyer's noise while he/she is in the process of making a purchasing decision.

By contrast, every other ad medium is passive without the tools to pursue your message for more information and perhaps even make an immediate online purchase.

Perhaps the drug companies ought to take some aspirin and rethink this in the morning.

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