The safety of prescription medicine in the United States is at risk. Some in Congress want to start getting rid of the paper instructions that the law now requires drug companies to send to medical providers with medicine.
This bad idea is part of an otherwise laudable effort to reduce counterfeit medication. Instead of handy, useful and sometimes lifesaving instructions that travel with medication, Congress is proposing to rely only on the Internet to track this information.
This is a terrible idea for practitioners, patients and the thousands of American workers who do the good work of producing these instructions. Here in Minnesota, we at MGS Machine Corp. manufacture packaging machinery used to produce these instructions around the country.
This proposal would be a bad idea even in the parts of the country that enjoy fast, reliable Internet access. But large swathes of rural America have spotty service at best. Imagine a country doctor unwittingly prescribing a drug to a patient, only to discover too late that it interacts dangerously with one of the other medicines she takes.
For the moment, the bill targets only the paper inserts provided to medical professionals. This idea is erroneous in its intent, and it’s a dangerous first step down a road where patients are required to use the Internet to get their information as well.
Millions of Americans — especially seniors and other vulnerable populations likely to take prescription medication — have no Internet access. They can’t afford it, or it’s simply not available in their community. Depriving such people of paper instructions for their medicines creates a potentially deadly gulf between haves and have-nots.
Even those with Internet service face frequent outages, and can lose service for days, weeks or months in disasters such as Hurricane Sandy or the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma. Where the Internet is available, imagine trying to sort out fact from fiction online. We shouldn’t trust our families’ health to an online popularity contest for viewers.
We would lose business if it were to be eliminated. But more important, our families, neighbors and community would suffer. In its efforts to reduce counterfeit medications, Congress should not restrict information about vital medications.
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Steven Hallblade is part-owner of MGS Machine Corp., which has its headquarters in Maple Grove.