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Drug Companies' Antics Can Really Make You Sick
Published on Sunday, May 13, 2001 in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Drug Companies' Antics Can Really Make You Sick
by Molly Ivins
 
AUSTIN -- We're all used to eco-porn by now -- those beautiful television ads featuring some natural jewel, during which an announcer with a deep voice tells us how much Exxon or some other gross polluter is doing to keep our precious Earth green.

We always get a get a lot of this greenwashing after oil spills or whenever Congress contemplates regulating anything.

But just as we are learning to cope with eco-porn (any ad involving both wildlife and an oil company is to be hooted and jeered immediately), suddenly they unleash a flood of pharma-porn on us. (I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't know the new politically trendy way to refer to the big drug companies is `pharmas.' I've been calling them big drug companies -- but the advantage of being in Texas is that no one ever expects you to be up on this stuff.)

As a cancer survivor, I am particularly susceptible to the wonderful ad in which a woman recovering from breast cancer tries to express her gratitude to the drug companies that saved her life.

I know she feels the same gratitude to the doctors, the nurses, the orderlies, the health insurance company, her best friend, her mother-in-law and many more. I know the gratitude caused by surviving cancer.

I just didn't expect to see it exploited by Big Pharmas to counter all the rotten publicity they've been getting for their greedy, bloodsucking, murderous behavior all over the globe.

John LeCarre, the British master of the spy novel, based his latest work on the pharmas' role in Africa and recently wrote in `The Nation': "Big Pharma in the United States has persuaded the State Department to threaten poor countries' governments with trade sanctions in order to prevent them from making their own cheap forms of the patented, life-saving drugs that could ease the agony of 35 million men, women and children in the Third World who are HIV positive. In pharma jargon, these patent-free, copycat drugs are called generic. Big Pharma likes to trash them, insisting they are unsafe and carelessly administered. Practice shows that they are neither. They simply save the same lives that Big Pharma could save, but at a fraction of the cost."

We all know the drug companies' famous excuse that they have to make huge profits on a drug in order to finance research and development of more. There's quite a bit of pharma-porn on this very subject. LeCarre responds, "Then kindly tell me, please, how come they spend twice as much on marketing as they do on research and development?"

Because it pays, of course. Spending on drugs in this country is up by a whopping 19 percent -- so far out of line with the rest of the cost increases in the economy as to be obscene. Furthermore, a new study by the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation says the $20.8 billion in increased spending "was attributable, in large measure, to the rising volume of prescriptions for top-selling drugs."

Big Pharma's record on AIDS in Africa is so appalling that in April it finally dropped its own lawsuit against South Africa to prevent the country from using generics to treat the disease. The lawsuit was a public relations disaster, necessitating more pharma-porn here lest anyone get the idea that the pharmas are greedy beyond human comprehension and perfectly willing to let millions of Africans die.

Here's one of their many tricks. In 1984, Congress passed the Drug Price Competition Act, intended to promote competition between brand and generic companies and to promote the generics. In July 2000, `The New York Times' chronicled how well it was working: In 1998, Zenith Goldline Pharmaceuticals sued Abbott Labs over whether Zenith could sell a generic version of Hytrin, Abbott's $500 million-a-year drug for high blood pressure.

According to Zenith's lawyer, "Abbott makes a million dollars a day for every day it keeps us off the market." After opening arguments in the case, the lawyers all strolled off to lunch at the Hay-Adams in Washington, and the case was there settled.

The `Times' wrote: "Abbott agreed to pay Zenith as much as $2 million a month not to produce its generic, up to a maximum of $42 million. The next day, Abbott agreed to pay another rival, Geneva Pharmaceuticals, even more: $4.5 million a month up to $101 million over the life of the contract."

Think how instructive it would be if NBC ever put a story like that on "The Fleecing of America."

© 2001 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas

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