Democrats like me seldom accede to Ronald Reagan's proposition that government is the problem and not the solution. But in the renewed effort in Greenbrier County to make over-the-counter cold medicines "prescription" drugs, I finally see Reagan's point.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Democrats like me seldom accede to Ronald Reagan's proposition that government is the problem and not the solution. But in the renewed effort in Greenbrier County to make over-the-counter cold medicines "prescription" drugs, I finally see Reagan's point.
With regard to this issue it is necessary to discuss the subject utterly taboo in America, namely social class: The legislators and city councilmen who advocate prescription drug status for over-the-counter medicines are by definition prominent persons with prominent friends. Prominent persons with prominent friends have doctors who are social friends, and who will call in a prescription for them with a phone call to their home or cell phone number.
I am one such person. A close friend of mine is a Harvard/Hopkins-trained doctor and my son is a doctor. Furthermore, I have 10 clients who are doctors. I can call my son on my cell phone from Rite Aid and he will authorize whatever prescription I need.
But such is not the case with my coal miner clients or all the ordinary hard-working folks I represent who don't have "prominent" friends. For "ordinary" people, getting a prescription for Sudafed or some other over-the-counter remedy would involve sitting in some primary care doctor's office for an hour and a half waiting to be seen and then paying $65 for an "office visit" during which the doctor does nothing but verify that, yes indeed, you have a cold.
Part of the problem in government is that the people who make the rules frequently don't need to live by them. Obviously meth labs are a major problem in West Virginia. One of my clients runs an oil and gas exploration company and he can't find truck drivers with CDL's because workers can't pass the CDL drug test. Drug use is rampant in Southern West Virginia, but there is no point punishing hundreds of thousands of people simply to have, at best, a very marginal effect on meth production and use. After all, a few years ago we tightened up distribution of over-the-counter cold medicines by requiring an ID to buy them, limiting the number of packages a person can purchase, and reporting purchases. But, meth use has gone up, not down!
Last summer in France I inquired about labor supply problems related to drug use and was universally told that drug use is not a widespread labor supply problem in France. Thus, drug use is a cultural problem and not a regulatory problem. When I was in high school, no one used drugs of any type; in the inner-city slums of the 1950's, heroine was a problem, but the problem was limited to a few urban venues and a narrow group of users. The culture of the 1950's, which was hardly "permissive," simply didn't admit to tolerance for drug use. Memorably, someone at my school once presciently remarked: "Why do you think they call it dope?"
I see the renewed efforts to harass the working class by making over-the-counter cold remedies "prescription" drugs from two sides: First, I am one of those persons who has at least 10 friends who will write a prescription for me. But second, I have myriad clients who have a difficult time getting health care of any sort. A co-payment of even $20 is a big deal for a family of four trying to make it on under $30,000 a year, and even if a working person can afford the co-pay or the full office visit cost, such a visit involves losing a day of work, waiting in the doctor's office for at least an hour and a half, and paying useless money simply because some do-gooder bureaucrat thinks it's a good idea.
This is nonsense!
Neely is a former chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court and a practicing lawyer in Charleston.
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