Though it hasn’t been an easy decision, The Athens NEWS recommends a YES vote on state Issue 2 on the Nov. 7 ballot. The Ohio Drug Price Relief Act is an earnest effort to challenge the colossal power and greed of the pharmaceutical industry by seeking to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for about four million Ohioans.

Issue 2 would attempt to accomplish this by requiring state agencies and programs – foremost the Ohio Department of Medicaid – to purchase prescription drugs at the same (or lower) price that the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs pays for them. The VA currently negotiates drug prices 20-24 percent less than other government agencies.

Issue 2 would not directly affect the seven million Ohioans who have private health insurance, though each side of the issue argues that the Drug Price Standards Initiative would indirectly affect drug prices for those people (positively or negatively, depending on the side).

Drug prices in Ohio and across the country are far higher than in most other countries, and depending on the types and/or amounts of drugs prescribed, can easily break a person’s household budget. In many cases, citizens go without needed drugs that are too expensive to buy, and end up sick or dead as a result.

In the absence of any serious government effort to reign in prescription drug prices, either in Ohio or the nation at large, Issue 2 appears to be a worthy attempt to do something about this inhumane situation.

Can Issue 2 supporters guarantee that their Drug Price initiative will bring down drug prices without any unwanted indirect consequences? Alas, no more than the opposition forces can guarantee that Issue 2 isn’t going to work.

The system in the United States under which prescription drugs are priced and sold to a wide range of public and private entities is immensely complex. Skepticism is the appropriate response to anyone who purports to know with any specificity how Issue 2 will affect drug prices in Ohio.

What we do know, however, is that the status quo is unacceptable. If Issue 2 has a legitimate shot of bringing down drug prices for four million Ohioans – while sending a long overdue wakeup call to Big Pharma and its captive politicians – we feel it should be given a chance.

Unfortunately, Issue 2 faces an uphill battle, with the opposition filling the airwaves with misleading advertising.

While the opposition campaign sports a “who’s who” of Ohio medical, veterans and business groups, nearly all of its funding has been provided through the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the main trade organization for the drug industry. Actual donors to the drug industry’s opposition campaign have not been revealed.

The drug industry reportedly spent more than $100 million last year to defeat a similar drug price initiative in California. According to Ohio campaign finance reports issued last Thursday, the main group opposing Issue 2, the Big Pharma-financed Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue, so far has spent four times as much as the pro group, Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices. That’s $39.4 million versus $10.4 million, and the opponents still had $7.8 million left to spend.

Big money funneled into the Issue 2 opposition campaign should be viewed in context with the blizzard of largesse that Big Pharma blankets on its supporters in Congress and statehouses across America, often in pursuit of self-interest and profit rather than any public benefits.

Recently, proponents of Issue 2 had their arguments in behalf of drug-price controls bolstered by national news reports. The Washington Post and CBS’s “60 Minutes” reported that the drug industry orchestrated passage of legislation that crippled the federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s ability to halt shipments of opioids and other dangerous prescription drugs to unscrupulous pharmacists and doctors.

This happened at a time when Ohio and other states were coping with an opioid crisis whose human toll rises every day (some 200,000 lives lost at the time the law was passed in April 2016).

The news outlets reported that chief among the lawmakers who helped pass this weakening of essential DEA powers was U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., President Trump’s appointee to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy (under pressure, Trump withdrew his name). Marino had been a loyal legislative servant to the drug industry, according to the reports, hauling in almost $100,000 in campaign contributions from industry-supported groups.

That $100K was part of $152 million that pharmaceutical manufacturing spent lobbying Congress in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. As of 2016, the industry had spent $2.3 billion in lobbying Washington over the previous decade.

Obviously, letting the drug industry call the shots in Ohio and the U.S. has not resulted in public benefits – it has put desperately needed medications out of reach of many Americans, and driven prices far higher than in other First World nations. And as the recent reporting confirms, the industry and its shills in Congress have hamstrung the DEA in fighting the opioid crisis. This has born deadly consequences in communities across Ohio and America, including right here in Athens County.

Even if Issue 2 loses at the polls – and the sheer wealth and weight of the opposition’s advertising campaign suggests its chances aren’t great – it will represent a shot across the bows of Big Pharma and its minions in Congress.

It’s about time American citizens fought back, and the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act seems like a good start. We say vote yes on Issue 2.

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