Overdose: How Excessive Government Regulation Stifles Pharmaceutical Innovation

By Leef, George C. | Freeman, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Overdose: How Excessive Government Regulation Stifles Pharmaceutical Innovation


Leef, George C., Freeman


Overdose: How Excessive Government Regulation Stifles Pharmaceutical Innovation by Richard A. Epstein Yale University Press * 2006 * 271 pages * $30.00

Reviewed by George C. Leef

Over the course of his distinguished career in the law, Professor Richard Epstein has done as much as anyone to show how bad laws and regulations are harmful, both to individuals and to the fabric of society. He has tackled a wide array of subjects, from the misinterpretation of the Constitution to the attack on property rights, and with his current book, Overdose, Epstein applies his talents to the extremely important topic of pharmaceuticals. He gives the reader a comprehensive look into the process of bringing a new drug to market, carefully detailing the numerous obstacles the federal government puts in the way at each stage.

Epstein concludes that, far from protecting consumers, current regulation of the drug industry unnecessarily drives up costs and impedes development. What we need, he argues, is a consistent policy of liberalization. But he ominously suggests that instead we are apt to venture even further into the morass of political meddling with this vital industry.

Americans today live longer, healthier lives due in large measure to the wonderful advances in drugs over the past century. Most people assume that such progress just happens automatically, but Epstein shows that pharmaceutical progress cannot be taken for granted. It depends on property rights, incentives, and freedom. Unfortunately, drug companies are tempting political targets and a large number of people seem to think that these golden geese will continue laying eggs no matter how they're treated. Epstein takes us through intellectual-property issues, R&D issues, pricing, marketing, safety, and liability issues, always detailing the ways government policy works against the interests of people who benefit from (or could benefit from) drugs.

Some of his analysis will probably be familiar to Freeman readers. We learn, for example, that the Food and Drug Administration's testing regime does more harm than good by screening out many potentially beneficial drugs from legal use in America because they haven't been proven safe and effective to the satisfaction of agency officials. Those officials tend to err on the side of caution since, from their point of view, the visible harm that occurs when someone is hurt by taking an approved drug is far worse than the invisible harm that occurs when people can't obtain a drug that could save them. While this line of analysis has been made many times, Epstein elucidates it with particular clarity. …

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