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Drey Samuelson


Guess who said this: “Drug companies are getting away with murder,” their practices are “disastrous,” and their prices are “out of control.” The answer? President Donald Trump.

Why, simply because it’s true. Americans pay substantially more for Rx drugs than consumers in other parts of the world In fact, according to Reuters, Americans pay as much as seven times more than British consumers for the same top-selling drugs.

So, why are Americans in this unhappy position? For one simple reason: other countries use their volume purchasing power to strike deals with drug companies for substantial discounts. We don’t because the pharmaceutical companies — Big Pharma — control Congress, pure and simple.

But the one group that Big Pharma gives a pass to are veterans. It benevolently allows the VA to use its purchasing power to get a 24 percent discount — and sometimes higher — for the drugs that it buys. Don’t get us wrong, the VA and vets deserve it, but so do all Americans. And that’s why we strongly support the South Dakota Fair Drug Price ballot initiative, which mandates that the state of South Dakota use its purchasing power to buy prescription drugs (for Medicaid recipients, state hospitals, etc.) and get the same negotiated price that the VA pays. If the initiative passes, it will save South Dakota taxpayers millions of dollars — money that could either be rebated back to citizens, or redirected toward needed projects.

The 22,000 South Dakotans who signed the initiative petitions knew that it was long past time to rein in Big Pharma. Well, this is our chance.

We know we can’t rely on Congress. A bill to allow Americans to purchase prescription drugs from Canada and other countries at cut-rate prices didn’t make it through the Senate (although, to his credit, Sen. Thune voted for it). Big Pharma simply wields too much power. But because South Dakotans have the right to initiate our own laws, we can take care of ourselves.

Make no mistake, passage of this initiative won’t be easy. Big Pharma, sitting on an unbelievable vault of money (gleaned from us), has spent almost $200 million to defeat similar initiatives in California and Ohio. We know that they’ll spend tens of millions of dollars in South Dakota to attempt to defeat this initiative, too. In fact, just two Rx companies (one U.S., one foreign) already have contributed over $300,000 to the Big Pharma committee planning to defeat the initiative.

But they’re not going to beat us here.

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South Dakotans are simply too smart. For one thing, we start out with a huge lead: an April Public Policy Polling survey showed that the Fair Drug Price Initiative was favored by a whopping 80 to 89 percent margin, so we know that South Dakotans want change.

For another, South Dakotans proved in 2016 that Big Money doesn’t rule the roost when we decisively voted down the payday loan industry’s sham initiative and passed an initiative with teeth in it that protects vulnerable South Dakotans from these shysters. To put numbers to it, the pay day loan industry outspent reformers by a 16-1 margin ($1,362,000 to $87,000), and yet lost the initiative by an incredible 76 to 24 percent margin.

So, we’re optimistic about our chances, but no one should have any illusions that this will be anything other than a real struggle — Big Pharma has too much at stake to let this initiative pass without a fight. But we believe South Dakotans will see through their big money-fueled half-truths and realize that it’s time to say “enough is enough.”

Rick Weiland and Drey Samuelson are co-founders of TakeItBack.Org, a non-profit advocacy organization focused on using initiated measures to advance election reforms and needed public policy.

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