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What Roger Bate Discovered about Online Pharmacies

Dr. Roger Bate, an economist who publishes extensively about drug quality, safety, and intellectual property, finds himself a bit out in the cold right now and we think that’s wrong. It’s all because of his latest work on Internet pharmacies and personal drug importation.

He was once a favorite of the pharmaceutical industry. In a 2004 National Review article called “What Patent Problem?” Dr. Bate enraged the progressive, health activist community for arguing that patents are not obstacles to needed medication in poor countries because 95% of World Health Organization Essential Medicines are already off patent. Arguments like those were welcomed by industry, but things have changed. His recent research showing that personal drug importation (which undermines pharmaceutical profits) through online pharmacies can be safe has made him persona non grata in some pharma circles, despite his other positions which support pharma. Unfortunately, it seems the health activist community is also hesitant to embrace Dr. Bate’s current work on personal drug importation, perhaps because they don’t want to lend credence to his past research.

We think it’s time that everyone, including the FDA, listens carefully to what Dr. Bate is saying about personal drug importation. After extensive mystery shopping and testing of products, Dr. Bate came to a very simple conclusion: As long as people purchased medication from websites (foreign or domestic) approved by or the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, they were generally safe doing so. His data also showed that Americans could save a lot of money (an average of 52%) on brand name medicines from legitimate pharmacies outside the U.S. He believes this option, to be fair, should exist mainly for lower income individuals rather than people able to afford U.S. prices.

Dr. Bate’s conclusions about online pharmacy are an inconvenient truth for the pharmaceutical industry and U.S. pharmacies – which include some of the funders of his employer, the American Enterprise Institute. These industries lobby the government to prevent Americans from accessing drugs online at lower cost from foreign pharmacies. Their strategy has been to ignore Dr. Bate’s findings on Internet pharmacies. The FDA seems to be playing the same game by scaring the public away from personal drug importation through public information campaigns, such as Be Safe Rx.

We know that Dr. Bate’s work on online pharmacies is guided by hard data, objective analysis, and his free market sensibilities. We do not agree with his positions on all subjects, but his studies on drug safety demand respect from all sides and could help policy-makers reach the right conclusions for the public good.

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