When I read the alarming media accounts of Turing Pharmaceuticals raising the price of an obscure antibiotic named Daraprim, used primarily by victims of malaria or AIDS, I thought, “Where do these guys get off sullying the name of Alan Turing?” I assumed that patents were the problem. I don’t let monopoly capitalists off the hook for these things, but like many libertarians, I reserve my greatest contempt for politicians feigning outrage even as they forcibly impose the patent rights by threatening to shoot competitors.

But the more stories I read, the less I understood. First, I read that Daraprim has been around for sixty years. So how could it still be covered by a patent? Then I read that the only applicable patents expired long ago. Then I read that drug manufacturers in other countries legally produce the drug, with no fear of violating any patent in the U.S. or anywhere else, for pennies on the dollar (fractions of a penny in fact) now charged by Turing Pharmaceuticals.

Turns out that Daraprim has only one manufacturer in the U.S., now Turing Pharmaceuticals, not because of a patent but because of an FDA approval process so convoluted that an established manufacturer can effectively monopolize a small market simply by erecting barriers to FDA approval of a generic equivalent. According to Wikipedia, “The purpose of a closed distribution system [erected contractually by Turing], according to drug company presentations and lawsuits, is to prevent generic competitors from legally obtaining the drugs for the bioequivalence studies required for FDA approval of a generic drug.”

To be clear, the FDA approved the drug long ago; otherwise, Turing couldn’t sell it in the U.S. Safety and efficacy are not disputed, but the FDA apparently requires a “bioequivalence study” before another manufacturer can sell a drug already available, and an established manufacturer can effectively block this study by preventing a potential competitor from obtaining the drug in order to prove “equivalence”.

Of course, these regulations in the U.S. don’t prevent companies in India, the U.K. and other countries from producing the drug, and almost unbelievably, consumers of the drug in the U.S. (or their insurance companies) must now pay $75,000/month for a drug that they can obtain legally in India for roughly $10/month. If I’m infected with HIV and need this drug to resist an opportunistic infection threatening my life, I can literally fly to India and buy a house there and then buy my life saving drug for the cost of a few month’s supply in the U.S.

Of course, anyone desperately needing this drug can, and certainly should, obtain it outside of the United State, but the necessity of fleeing the U.S. this away to avoid death, or only to avoid channeling billions through the health care-industrial complex, is only a bit more outrageous than the media coverage. ABC reported the story this way yesterday.

The story says nothing about intellectual property or FDA approvals or U.S. drug companies gaming the approval process or even the fact that patients desperately needing this drug can fly to India and buy it there for a small fraction of the cost of buying it in the U.S. Why a “news” organization, serving the interests of its viewers, would omit the last fact is difficult to fathom. Desperately poor Indian workers toiling in Indian sweatshops have nothing to do with the price difference. It’s all about enriching the already incredibly rich in the U.S.

Without Wikipedia aggregating facts simply ignored by this mouthpiece of the corporative state, how would I know which state constituent to blame, particularly when major media rarely mention the state’s role at all except to report some politician’s outrage without also reporting the regulatory capture, attributable entirely to politicians themselves, directly responsible for the monopoly rents?