I went into a pharmacy the other day to buy some allergy medication. The form for $4.00 off of the Claritin brand was still not working (see my last post) so I ended up buying the generic. The product I purchased was a decongestant containing pseudoephedrine (Sudafed). It is now restricted and stocked behind the pharmacy counter. I had no problem finding it though. I went to where it should be on the shelf and there was a card that told me exactly where to get it. The pharmacist gave me the product and scanned the barcode on the back of my driver’s license. I paid for the product and was on my way.
It wasn’t always this way. A number of years ago Claritin-D and other decongestants with Sudafed were sold in front of the counter like aspirin. Pseudoephedrine is a key raw ingredient in methamphetamine, a very addictive drug. People began making methamphetamine (meth) in their bathtubs. They would buy a couple of months supply of decongestant in 5 to 10 different stores to get enough raw material for meth production while not raising suspicion they were doing something illegal. They sold the meth or used it themselves. The methamphetamine was killing people and meth production was polluting everything it touched. Much of the production was being done in rural areas such as Indiana farm towns where law enforcement was not equipped to handle the problem. Something needed to be done.
Law enforcement and civic leaders suggested that the State regulate decongestants. they suggested that purchases be recorded and individuals could only buy a reasonable amount of medication that they could use over a 30 day period. Any person buying over a certain amount would be placed on an alert list.
The push back was huge. It seemed everyone found something wrong with the new proposal. Manufacturers did not like it because they thought they would sell less product. They claimed people would not buy their product if it was controlled. Pharmacies did not like it because they would be tasked with keeping records of individuals who purchased the product. Many called it an unfunded mandate. Some in government did not know what to do with or how to track the data that would be created. Some people did not like it because they didn’t want government telling them what to do. Organizations lobbied their political officials. Politicians took a “safe” approach. Nothing happened and the meth problem got worse, much worse.
As time went on meth production affected more counties and more individuals. Families were ruined. Law enforcement was overwhelmed. The cost to clean up the problem, catch and convict the offenders and rehabilitate the addicted back into society was staggering.
A title wave had hit and something had to be done.
Store chains such as Target, Wal-Mart and CVS heard the outcry and began to restrict the product. Eventually politicians could not ignore the problem any longer and 30 states passed laws requiring that products containing pseudoephedrine be restricted. Finally the Federal Government passed a similar law in 2006.
So a law passed and the rules changed. You would think that everyone would take pseudoephedrine out of their products. Most had argued that they could not compete with a regulated OTC product. Some manufacturers did.
Only one problem though – the pseudoephedrine product worked and consumers wanted it.
Manufacturers like Schering Plough, the producer of Claritin-D, decided to keep their formula and vary other things to keep market share. Bright marketers put on their thinking caps and figured out how to keep shelf space and make it easy for customers to find their product.
Forward thinking pharmacies tasked their IT departments to develop scanners to take personal information (and conform to federal requirements) off of a driver’s license automatically.
In the end we found that we can have our cake and eat it too. The nay sayers had it wrong. A good product is still on the market with a minimum of inconvenience to the consumer and a deadly misuse has been controlled.
The reality is that industry did not change until it was forced. Voluntary unilateral change doesn’t work. The process never would have happened without government intervention ……….
Now I am not a supporter of excessive government regulation. I feel the private market can and should be able to do most things better than government but sometimes, as in the Claritin-D example, rules need to be made to encourage the market to compete in innovative ways and improve society as a whole.
So what are some other examples of how government can encourage industry?
How about increased fuel efficiency in cars and trucks? We all know we need to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. What if the government would set a goal of 80 miles per gallon by a certain date (2017) and give manufacturers tax incentives for meeting those goals. The goal needs to be a breakthrough – not incremental. If we could get a man to the moon in less than 10 years in the 1960’s my hunch is we could come up some fantastic fuel efficient cars in 10 years. If the carmakers really set a priority on making a fuel efficient and powerful car for the US market I think we could do it. These cars would sell not only in the US but lead the world. Take that Iran!
Another area may be carbon reduction. We know carbon levels are increasing and also know a major source is the burning of fossil fuels. Some people ignore the problem or suggest very minor reductions. Why not go for a real breakthrough target and ask for a 50% reduction in carbon emissions over 20 years. There are processes available today that will take carbon out of the air. We need to make them cost effective. There are resins available now that are sprayed on or molded into precast concrete that cause dirt to react with sunlight and disappear. It is self cleaning concrete! How about a similar resin that when exposed to sunlight will convert carbon to something else? How about a carbon converting resin that can be applied to the blade of a fan. Every household’s air conditioner compressor can now become a pump to pull carbon out of the air. Manufacturers could get tax incentives from the government for building and using these carbon reducing fans. If a company invented such a technology their products would be in high demand. They would hire lots of people. We need to make sure it is a US company, with US workers.
A key strength of the United States is our ability to solve problems. Let’s set some challenging goals, create an environment for innovation and solve them before anyone else. It can be done. Let’s lead.
Until next time – All the best!