Tomorrow, the United States Supreme Court will hear an important case on the freedom of information and it should be of great interest to everyone in the pharmaceutical industry. The case, Sorrell v. IMS Health, looks at free speech. At issue in the case is whether States have the right to enact special secrecy laws for physicians by banning the lawful use of information for supposedly altruistic (if often, unsubstantiated) reasons.
These laws were passed in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, at the urging of a group called the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices (NLARx). Just how these physician secrecy laws are supposed to drive down prescription prices has not be adequately explained by the NLARx. I guess we were just supposed to believe them on it. Since these laws were passed in 2006, the States of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire have not made a single effort at reducing prescription drug prices via any provision of these laws.
Whatever the Supreme Court decides in the case of Sorrell v. IMS Health, NLARx Executive Director Sharon Treat and her allies have already won. Last week came the news that Sharon Treat’s home state of Maine now has the highest rate of prescription drug abuse in the country. Why? Physicians in Maine are more likely to prescribe narcotics to patients who don’t need it than any State in the USA. Thanks to Sharon Treat’s efforts, doctors have nothing to fear from people looking over their shoulder. In fact, Maine’s much lauded Prescription Management Program focuses on individual patients. It doesn’t look for patterns in prescribers. A program run by the pharmaceutical industry was shut down, again, thanks to Sharon Treat.
In fact, if you look at States with the highest drug diversion and the highest problems of prescription drug abuse, they are all States that have regulated pharmaceutical prescription data (Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire). Coincidence? Unlikely.
So, whatever the Supreme Court decides, Sharon Treat and the NLARx have already won. In 2009, after Sharon Treat was able to get her law passed in Maine, prescription drug deaths jumped to over 160 per year. In Maine, every day, a baby is born addicted to prescription drugs. Those rates have only continued to climb. Just last week, the Federal Government noted that Maine has the worst prescription drug abuse problem in the country. So, the Supreme Court can take its time – Sharon Treat and the NLARx have already won…and the bodies are piling up in Maine to prove that I’m right.