The drug industry often defends higher drug prices in the U.S. by claiming that it guarantees Americans “first shot” at new drugs.

Bob Ehrlich at DTC Perspectives stated as much in his e-mail commentary today:

“As far as high pricing goes, here is where it can get quite complex. Drug companies need someone to pay high retail prices, because so many countries have price controls. There is not really a palatable explanation to the American public on why drug prices are higher in the U.S. market. The truth is that someone needs to make drug sales profitable and unfortunately it is the American public that is hit with the tab. The benefit is more drug research and a market inspired guarantee that Americans will get first shot at newer drugs. We certainly will appreciate that when a pandemic hits.”

[Bob, I’m sorry if I am quoting you out of context, but I can’t link to an e-mail message. If your commentary had a Web page, I would be glad to provide the link.]

“Pandemic” fear mongering aside, after about 20 milliseconds I was able to think of at least one drug that has been available in Europe for at least a year and not yet approved for sale here in the US: Acomplia, or as it is now going to be called here in the US, Zimulti (see “Yummi! It’s Zimulti!“).

Not that I think this is such a great product, but it is representative of a common practice by the drug industry: launch new products outside the US first, then get US FDA approval later.

I am not sure how “common” this practice really is, but I think it’s likely to be more common now that the FDA seems more cautious in approving new drugs (see, for example, “Our Lawless FDA“). Having a drug already on the market in Europe, Asia, and South America is a good argument for approving it for sale in the US, all other things being equal.

Just a thought: What Americans may sometimes get by paying higher prices for Rx drugs is the comfort in knowing that we are not the guinea pigs; other people are. That’s priceless!