3d Printing and drug hacking?

First, a little update: I’m now back in the U.S. and back to blogging.

On my brief vacay there, I continued to contemplate the advent of 3D printers and their possible affects on the future. Today I started thinking about whether 3D printers could produce drugs (via a method similar to how such printers could potentially print food.) Specifically, I was wondering whether drug hackers could reverse engineer existing, often costly, prescription drugs and upload recipes for these drugs onto the web. These recipes could be downloaded and certain printers could “print” the drugs. (People doing the printing would still need the raw materials for the drugs of course; the printer would just assemble the materials. But these pirated drugs would clearly be much cheaper than the legal, patented versions.)

As is usually the case with these ruminations, I found that many people had already been thinking about the topic. I offer the podium to the libertarian Mises.org.

Now imagine a not-too-distant future world where 3D printers of all types are becoming more prevalent. It is easy to imagine machines designed to fabricate pharmaceuticals. If a new life-saving drug hits the market and costs thousands of dollars per year (due to the combination of the patent monopoly, the FDA system, medical licensure of doctors, government regulation of prescription drugs, and other state interventions), some consumers may prefer to “make their own” generic version, using reverse-engineered “recipes” floating around the web programmed into their own, or a friend’s, 3D drug printer. Just as the hacker community quickly cracks new iOS releases on the iPhone, say, it is not hard to imagine the drug-hacker community reverse engineering the composition and manufacturing method of pharmaceuticals–especially in this near future world with increasingly sophisticated and cheap analyzing and related equipment.

Now, these home-made generic pharmaceuticals might not be as good as the official ones. They might even be more dangerous. But to save thousands of dollars a year, many people might turn to this.

From there the post examines legal and enforcement issues related to drug hacking. Interesting stuff.

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