Scoring Illegal Drugs with a Prescription

How our Broken System Forces People to Break the Law

Shefali O'Hara
5 min readNov 24, 2019


Photo by Haley Lawrence on Unsplash

I have a friend, let’s call him Bob. He lost his job a couple of years ago. That meant he lost his health insurance. He needs a prescription medication, Lamictal, for a seizure disorder. If he doesn’t take his pill every day, it’s not safe for him to drive. This makes life difficult for him in Texas, where viable public transport options are as rare as men who ask for directions.

I have another friend, Monique. She doesn’t have health insurance even though she has a job as a technical writer. That’s because she’s a contractor. It wasn’t a problem until recently, because she was married and got coverage through her husband. But they divorced and now she’s in trouble, because she’s a diabetic. She needs insulin or she will die.

The problem for both Bob and Monique — the drugs they need are expensive. Lamictal costs Bob over $300 for a month’s supply in the United States. Bob could afford it if he was working, but he’s not. Monique’s situation is even more grim. Her medication costs her $1200 a month, which is a third of her take-home pay. She needs the drug to live.

What is ironic, the researchers who discovered insulin in 1921 (Banting, Best and Collip) sold their patent to the University of Toronto for $1 each. They didn’t want to profit from other peoples’ pain. True humanitarians, they tried to gift their life saving drug to the world. Unfortunately for diabetics, drug companies see insulin as a profit center.

Don’t get me wrong. I get that manufacturers need to make a profit. So do researchers, doctors and HMO administrators. They need to live too. They can’t give drugs away for free and still buy groceries and pay rent.

However, what explanation do we have for the fact that my friend could get her medication in Canada for 36% of what American pharmacies charge?

However, what explanation do we have for the fact that Lantus costs almost 70% less in Canada than it does in the US? Canadian pharmacists somehow manage to make a profit despite this price differential. This is not surprising since the drug costs less than $20 to make, according to an article in the Washington Post on January 7, 2019, linked here.



Shefali O'Hara

Cancer survivor, writer, engineer. BSEE from MIT, MSEE, and MA in history. Love nature, animals, books, art, and interesting discussions.