Illegal drugs are not the only drug problem in this country

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Midland Daily News September 19, 2004

Six weeks ago I had an encounter with prescription drugs.

 

One night as I was preparing for bed I had an erratic heart beat. I was out of breath just going upstairs. My wife took me to the ER at MidMichigan Regional Medical Center where they quickly injected me with a couple IV's and hooked me up to oxygen. The doctors and care were excellent.

 

As it turns out I had atrial fibrillation, a rather common occurrence in "aging" people and very treatable. I was admitted to the hospital, the first time in over forty years. I came out feeling as good as ever but taking three medications daily (since then changed to one) in addition to my 81 mg aspirin, multivitamin, and Zantac for reflux disorder. I was suddenly thrust more deeply into the world of prescription drugs and health care.

 

I am one of the fortunate ones to have prescription drug coverage. But what if I didn't have insurance? The cost of my three medications would be $155.55 generic or $243.02 brand name instead of the $45 I paid. That got me thinking.

 

Subhead: Why are drugs so costly?

Time magazine (July 5) reported there are 526 lobbyists in Washington for the drug industry. That's nearly one lobbyist per congressman. Lobbyists are there for one purpose only: to influence legislation for the benefit of the drug industry.

 

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, [1] drug lobbying cost is expected to be in the range of $150 million in 2004, about half at the federal level, third at the state level and the rest directly at the Food and Drug Administration. There is an additional $17.5 million to fight price controls and protect patent rights (that's patent, not patient).

 

Subhead: Advertising.

We see ads for drugs on TV and in consumer magazines. Reader's Digest (June 2004) had 10 ads for prescription drugs, Field and Stream (June) had only 3, Better Homes and Gardens (July) had 7, Popular Science (June) had 3. Time (July 5) had none, but it did have one in its July 26 issue. Many of these ads direct us to "ask your doctor if this drug is right for you" and thus increase the demand for them.

 

Lipitor is one of the drugs advertised directly to consumers. Pfizer Inc, the maker of Lipitor, reported a net profit of $2.86 billion in the second quarter this year. Sales of Lipitor were up 17%. [2]

 

In 1997 the Food and Drug Administration allowed companies to advertise their drugs directly to consumers. The drug companies spent over $3 billion in 2002 on such advertising. There is no screening of these ads by the FDA or any other group.

 

The 50 drugs most heavily advertised accounted for almost half of the $20.8 billion increase in drug sales in 2002. The other half came from 9,850 prescription drugs that companies advertised very little or not at all.

 

One drug company spent more money promoting one of its arthritis drugs in 1999 than Pepsi spent to advertise Pepsi or Budweiser to advertise its beer. Sales quadrupled that year to $1.5 billion for that drug alone. From a marketing standpoint, drug advertising is very good.

 

The inflation rate was only 1.6% in 2001, yet the average price per prescription increased 10% over the previous year. [3] Before the Federal Drug Card benefit went into effect this year, companies increased their price again. With all the increased sales, one could think drug prices would drop. That happens in other industries.

 

Do the ads to consumers work? Do doctors prescribe medication when patients ask for it? Sure they do. A few years ago, I told my doctor I needed an antidepressant. Without diagnosing me, the doctor gave me a prescription. I know someone else who has asked for and received pain relievers. (Incidentally, after learning of the side effects of that drug, I threw it out after two weeks before it had a chance to do anything for me or to me.)

 

Should our good health depend on the ads of pharmaceutical companies to consumers? Should we be going to the doctor asking for drugs because they have been advertised or promoted to relieve or cure high cholesterol, treat heartburn and reflux, increase sexual potency or eliminate fatigue? Shouldn't these questions be answered by our health care professionals? Personal responsibility would dictate being careful about the drugs we take or ask for, but putting a stop to the direct advertising by drug companies would be a positive action as well.

 

Sidebar option 1:

Drug                     Count                    Dose                      Generic                 Brand

Warfarin                100                        2.5                         $ 76.37                   $  82.69

Cordorone             30                          200                        $ 61.11                   $114.17

Cardizem               30                          120                        $ 18.07                   $  46.16

 

Sidebar option 2:

Contact US Representative Dave Camp, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515 (202) 224-3121 or call in Midland 631-2552 and US Senators Carl Levin 269 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510 (202) 224-6221 and Debbie Stabenow 702 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510 (202) 224-4822to ask them to promote legislation to stop direct consumer advertising for prescription drugs.

 

 

Norbert Bufka is a Midland resident and occasional contributor to the Midland Daily News. He can be reached by email at Norbert@tm.net.

 



[1] http://www.mercola.com/2003/jun/18/drug_industry.htm The rest of the facts cited in this article are from this site as well unless noted otherwise.

[2] Detroit Free Press, July 22, 2004