It was winter, and our 2 year old had an earache. Even though both my wife and I are doctors, she’s always insisted that our children see the pediatrician when they’re sick. I was working the swing shift, so daytime sick call fell to me.
Fortunately, the pediatrician was able to see him right away, and neither of us were surprised when her exam revealed an ear infection. I thanked her for her time, and after a brief chat, headed over to the pharmacy with my son in tow to pick up the antibiotic she had prescribed.
The pediatrician’s office had called in the prescription, so I knew it would probably be ready by the time we got to the drugstore. All in all, not too bad—we were walking up to the prescription counter just under an hour after we’d left the house.
“Name?” asked the young woman behind the counter, followed by “Date of birth? Any allergies?” All questions I expected, having done this a countless times before. But I was more than a little taken aback when she said ‘Okay; can you lift him up here for the fingerprints?”
“Fingerprints?” I asked.
“What are you talking about?” I demanded, more than a little taken aback.
“Oh – perhaps you haven’t been in since the new law went into effect? The one requiring universal background checks for all drug transfers?”
“Universal background checks? For medication? What new law?”
“Well, I guess technically it’s not a new ‘law’, but the President signed a new directive. He basically reinterpreted the DEA and FDA mandates, and now they’re requiring these background checks, including fingerprints, for every ‘transfer’ of drugs, including medications.”
“That’s crazy – my son is 2 years old! And the prescription is for Amoxicillin – this stuff has been in common usage for 40 years!” I belatedly realized I was starting to raise my voice.
“I know it’s an inconvenience, but it’s the law now. Without the fingerprints, I can’t run the background check, and without that, I can’t legally dispense any medication. Of any kind. To anyone.”
I apologized for shouting. “I’m sorry—you caught me by surprise. But you have to admit it’s ridiculous; heck, we’ve been coming here for nearly 10 years—you’ve probably filled a dozen prescriptions for us yourself” I said, getting exasperated.
“It’s no problem”, she replied. “You should have heard my mother when she came in the first time to refill her blood pressure medication—she put on quite a show!” she chuckled.
“I’ll bet she did.”
“She’s gotten used to it now, but that first time – whew!”
“All right, I’ve settled down a bit—let me lift him up there for you.”
She completed the fingerprinting fairly quickly—no small feat with a sick, tired 2 year old, but I have to give her credit. I filled out a couple of additional forms, and then she told me to wait, reassuring me that the system usually only took 2-3 minutes, especially in the morning—afternoons, she said, go a good bit slower.
After less than 5 minutes, she came back to the counter, and called me back up with a smile. “Just plop him up here on the counter, and I’ll get this dose in him in no time flat!” she said cheerily.
“Excuse me? The dose? It’s only an ear infection, I’m sure the first dose can wait until we get home” I said in my friendliest tone, trying to cover my bemusement.
She looked puzzled for a moment, and then seemed to come to a realization. “Sir, I guess I didn’t explain the process completely. I can’t send you home with a whole bottle full of individual doses; every medication ‘transfer’ requires a background check; that’s what ‘universal’ means. Every transfer, even between family members. Even if you were licensed to make transfers, you’d still have to run a check on your son before every dose. You’d need to have access to the system, and you’d need to be able to do fingerprints.”
At that moment, I suddenly understood the true meaning of the word “nonplussed”—according to Webster’s, “surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react”.
As I hoisted my son onto the countertop, she smiled and said “I told you my mom got used to it. You will, too. Imagine how she feels—she’s in three times a day, for three or four medications each time!”
As I walked out of the pharmacy with my son in my arms, I quickly began thinking up ways we could get some Amoxicillin to keep at home, at least to make it through this ear infection—how on earth were we going to get him to the pharmacy two times a day for the next two weeks? And just so the pharmacist, 10 years my junior, could dispense a medication to my son, when both my wife and I perform much more serious procedures at work every day!
For the first time, my next door neighbor’s words made perfect sense to me. He’s a gun owner, a real Second Amendment absolutist. Frankly, I’d always thought he was a little bit crazy. All that “shall not be infringed” business. “What are a few extra hoops to jump through compared with the lives of innocent children?” I’d thought, when universal background checks for gun sales became the law of the land.
But now I understood. No doubt this was someone’s idea of a “reasonable restriction”, a “common sense” way to make some headway in the War on Drugs. It was obvious to me that the only reasonable response to this ridiculous law was to become an outlaw, to find a way to work around it. Just like my “crazy” gun owning neighbor, I suddenly comprehended the tyranny of a government denying citizens’ rights “for their own good”.
And I realized something else, too. As soon as my son fell asleep, I would be heading straight over to my “crazy” neighbor’s house. To apologize, and for some education—if I was going to be illegally dispensing drugs to my family, I was going to need a way to defend us from other people who didn’t want to wait in those pharmacy lines either, and didn’t have another way to get their hands on black market medication.
This foolish Universal Background Check system wasn’t going to prevent anyone from getting their hands on medications or other drugs illegally, but it was going to make it a lot more difficult to get them legally. I’m no economist, but it was obviously going to drive up black market demand, and therefore do the same for black market prices and profits. As Milton Friedman said, “See, if you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That’s literally true.”
But I realized that, in another way, this could work in my favor. If for some reason I couldn’t pass my Universal Background Check after I got my neighbor’s advice on home defense weapons, the truth of Mr. Friedman’s observation would guarantee that plenty of firearms will be available by other means.
—Tom Vaughan, MD, is a neuroradiologist in private practice in Louisville, KY. He is a shooting enthusiast who believes in individual liberty and personal responsibility.