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COMMENTARY:
THE PAIN OF RISING DRUG COSTS
UUP President William E. Scheuerman
Professor of Political Science, SUNY Oswego
January 2006
This commentary was recorded in January 2006 on WAMC-Northeast Public Radio.
COMMENTARY:
THE PAIN OF RISING DRUG COSTS
There’s a health care crisis in the United States. Costs are sky-
rocketing. Many Americans have no health care coverage at all
and those fortunate enough to have coverage are struggling to
maintain it. Keep this in mind the next time you go to the doctor and ask
for the “little purple pill” when an over-the-counter antacid would work
just as well.
You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all seen amount spent on research and development. In TV ads where an authoritative voice describes a 2004, Pfizer — the world’s largest drug company— medical problem and advises us to tell our doctor to spent $120 million on ads for the cholesterol drug prescribe a specific drug for our condition, imag- Lipitor. Not a bad investment, as the company ined or real. The implications of this TV campaign returned profits of $11.3 billion on sales of $51 bil- are far-reaching. Let’s begin by looking at what this lion last year. Needless to say, the costs of the means to the profession of medicine.
media campaign are passed on to the consumer.
Patients make demands
Number of drugs skyrocket
Once the patient becomes the mouthpiece of the But this is only the beginning. There are other drug companies, the professional status and author- ity of the treating physician is grossly undercut.
Over the last decade, the number of prescriptions The role of the doctor changes from one who is has increased by about two-thirds. Almost every- trained to treat disease to someone who dispenses thing is now defined as a disease requiring pre- drugs touted on TV because the consumer — scription drugs, even though, according to a News whose only education on the issue probably came Target report, “About 125,000 people die from drug from the TV ad — wants that particular drug. The reactions and mistakes every year, making it the bottom line: The doctor’s authority based on years fourth most common cause of death in America.” of education and professional training is replaced We know the human cost of these deaths: more than by patients’ demands as defined and driven by the twice the total of the Vietnam war annually. But drug companies’ relentless television commercials.
what are the health care costs of these deaths? What Last year these gigantic pill pushers spent about are the costs to society in terms of lost productivity $60 billion marketing their drugs, about twice the The Pain of Rising Drug Costs
Profit, not cure
generic, its manufacturer reworked the same com- pounds, added yellow stripes and produced In focusing on profits rather than cures, the drug Nexium, which hit $3.7 billion in sales in 2004.
companies don’t peddle less expensive generic Nexium also earned a Bitter Pill from the Boston- based Community Catalyst organization for “The Community Catalyst gave its “The Cure for the As health care commercials and tells his Human Condition Award” to GlaxoSmithKline costs increase, physician to prescribe a when it re-defined “shyness” as “social anxiety dis- order” and offered Paxil as the cure. With the mar- employee givebacks than the cheaper generic ket for Paxil significantly expanded to everybody who has ever felt anxious, shy or afraid, its 2004 sales topped $870 million. The FDA has also since premiums become a insurance plans, which in reprimanded the drug company because Paxil has major labor issue. consumer in the form of What it means to UUP
Health care in the United States is under the gun.
costs are rising almost as fast as the profits of the Americans are overmedicated, overcharged and frequently undertreated. As health care costs increase, employee givebacks on health insurance Patents protect the drug companies’ monopoly become a major labor issue. Additionally, more and on brand-name drugs for years, but they eventually more people have less and less health coverage or run out, driving companies to promote new drugs none at all. Our elected officials keep saying they when the old ones work just as well and even when want to do something about containing health care the new ones are virtually identical to their prede- costs. Well, they can start by reining in the large cessor! The “little purple pill” is a case in point.
drug companies and the billions they spend each When Prilosec, the original “purple pill,” went ENDNOTES
Center for Public Integrity, Special report: Second to None, How the pharmaceutical industry gets its See the Community Catalyst Web site at http://www.communitycatalyst.org

Source: http://uupinfo.org/research/working/scheuerman8.pdf

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