Fake Opioids Harm Property Rights

Updated: Jun 24, 2019

The opioids epidemic is back in the news.

U.S. Health and Human Services is widening the implementation of strategies that have significantly reduced opioid overdoses. Federal law enforcement has arrested doctors and other medical pros who’ve profited from trafficking the highly addictive pain medications with their prescription pads. And a public interest safety organization has urged Washington to block the importation of suspect opioids.

The opioids epidemic is not just a public health crisis. It also relates to property rights.

The blight of opioid abuse has affected vast swaths of our nation. It’s taken hundreds of thousands of lives, robbed thousands more of their health and broken the lives of countless loved ones. It’s a multifaceted problem requiring a multifaceted solution.

The Partnership for Safe Medicines amassed 100 organizations writing the president and Congress, raising important concerns about opioids importation, and users’ survivors alerting officials about pill presses used to make counterfeit opioid medicines.

Before stepping down, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb proposed tightening the approval standards for new opioid painkillers.

The Healthcare Leadership Council’s National Dialogue for Healthcare Innovation has produced a strategy for the public and private sectors to address the opioid epidemic.

Where do property rights fit in?

The dire consequences seem bad enough from importing or dealing pain meds either on the black market or under false pretenses. But trafficking counterfeit meds also steals from the makers of legitimate, FDA-controlled pain medication.

Those manufacturers own the patent or exclusively license the IP. They comply with the costly regulatory requirements for producing, labeling, storing and distributing the legitimate products — unlike those who make and hawk knockoffs.

In that regard, drug counterfeiters and sham “Canadian” online pharmacies cause the same harm as intellectual property infringers — the fakers steal a portion of the bonafide drug firms’ earnings while sullying their reputation, trademarks and brands. Meanwhile, there’s less money available to pursue research and development of new, improved medicines.

These are encroachments on private property rights.

Drug counterfeiters not only collect ill-gotten gains through their crime, their profits off of the legitimate drug companies add to health costs and impose significant other costs on users’ families, communities and society. Meanwhile, the bad guys fund their criminal enterprises with the ill-gotten gains, furthering the injury and injustice of their actions.

As we continue to fight the battle of opioid abuse, we should keep in view that not only does this crisis threaten public health, it also threatens property rights.

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