14 May 2008

The Republican corporate prescription

All is revealed with the GOP's new slogan: "The change you deserve," borrowed, we now know, from the antidepressant drug Effexor.

The difference, of course, is that the Republicans don't have to reveal side effects to potential consumers.
"Are depression symptoms keeping you from where you want to be?" Effexor's maker, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, asks in its promotions. "Not feeling as good as you used to?"
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters today that a safer remedy would "Democrats, not drugs, is what the American people need," he said. He flashed the Effexor side effects on a large flat-screen television. "Nausea, up to 58 percent," Hoyer said. "Actually it's higher than that for Republicans."
Hoyer didn't even mention the warning label, which states that patients should be watched to see if they are "becoming agitated, irritable, hostile, aggressive, impulsive, or restless."
All so true.

Also in the news today was the sad fact that relentless for-profit marketing has turned Americans into a bunch of pill-poppers. More than half of all insured Americans are taking prescription medicines regularly for chronic health problems. The causes are worse public health, better meds, and advertising. The biggest jump in use of chronic medications was in the 20- to 44-year-old age group where it was up 20 percent over six years. The chronic conditions served are mainly depression, diabetes, asthma, attention-deficit disorder and seizures.

There are some good books out on the pharmaceutical industry's success in the United States. Here are four, with their descriptions from Amazon:

Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, by Shannon Brownlee
Award-winning health and medicine writer Brownlee notes that Americans spend between one-fifth and one-third of health-care dollars on unnecessary treatments, medications, devices, and tests. What's worse, there are an estimated 30,000 deaths per annum caused by this unnecessary care. The reason for what amounts to a national delusion that more care is better care is rooted, she says, in a build-it-and-they-will-come paradigm that rewards doctors and hospitals for how much care they deliver rather than how effective it is.

Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs, by Melody Petersen
Much of what [former New York Times reporter Petersen] recounts — such as the glut of copycat drugs like antacids, and marketers' lavish wining and dining of doctors—has been covered in books by others, like Marcia Angell. But Petersen fleshes out these issues and names prominent doctors who, she says, are on the take. She is particularly strong on the ghostwriting of medical journal articles by advertising agencies. She also covers less familiar matters, like the environmental impact of drug residues in water.

Before You Take that Pill: Why the Drug Industry May Be Bad for Your Health," by J. Douglas Bremner
Recent scandals involving diabetes drugs, Vioxx, and many other medications reveal the serious and undisclosed risks of some of the most commonly used prescription drugs in this country. Dr. Bremner, a researcher and clinician at Emory University whose study on Accutane and depression made headlines, offers an inside look at the pharmaceutical industry, as well as a scientifically backed assessment of the risks of more than three hundred prescribed medications, vitamins, and supplements.

The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It, by Marcia Angell
The pharmaceutical industry, according to former New England Journal of Medicine editor Angell, is fraught with corruption and doing a disservice to customers, the federal government, and to the medical establishment itself. She explains how a huge portion of the revenue generated by "Big Pharma" goes not into research and development but into aggressive marketing campaigns to sell their product. She describes how, even though the drug companies claim that it costs them an average of $802 million per drug to develop new medicines, that figure is obscenely inflated since it factors in marketing as well as expected interest the company would have received had they invested the money in the open market. Meanwhile, most of the R & D work is done by colleges and universities funded by the government. There are also problems with the drugs themselves, since a majority are "me-too drugs", slightly modified versions of existing products which meant to address concerns of consumers most likely to spend money on pharmaceuticals. Thus, the market is filled with remarkably similar drugs to treat depression and high cholesterol while potentially life-saving medicines for diseases afflicting third-world countries are discontinued because they aren't profitable.

1 comment:

Doug Bremner said...

How true, how true. I mentioned your brother in a blog I wrote about our broken healthcare system.

I am sorry for your loss. And you are right, he shouldn't have died. A vivid illustration of why things need to be changed.