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Selected news articles which highlight important policy issues.

News: Weekly Archives

News for the week of 07-27-2005

Industry Hails Its Medicine Subsidies for Poor; Drug firms 'are getting it,' says a lobbyist, citing their program's aid to about 250,000 -- part of an effort to head off a prescription import bill.
Los Angeles Times, 7-27-05

Editor’s Notes:

America has a health-insurance problem masquerading as a prescription-drug problem. While prescription drug prices are only a fraction of total health expenditures - about 10% - drug companies are routinely lambasted for pricing policies that place some prescription drugs beyond the reach of Americans without health insurance. This is true, but it is no less true for the price of a chest x-ray, MRI, or single-night stay in a hospital. While the pharmaceutical industry is viewed by some consumer advocates as the modern equivalent of medieval leeching - bleeding patients to no good purpose - few pundits or policymakers seem to have grasped the fact that the lack of affordable health insurance makes some prescription drugs unaffordable.

The pharmaceutical industry, nonetheless, has responded to the barrage of criticism by expanding programs whereby uninsured, low-income Americans can receive vital medicines for little or no cost:

The pharmaceutical industry said Tuesday that a clearinghouse set up by drug companies had helped about a quarter of a million lower-income people obtain free or deeply discounted prescriptions in its first 100 days.

The giveaway program and the upcoming unveiling of self-imposed limits on pharmaceutical advertising are part of an industry effort to repair its image and head off legislation that would allow consumers to import low-cost prescription drugs from certain industrialized countries. …
But supporters of the import bill said the industry's philanthropy would not slow the legislation, which recently cleared the Senate Commerce Committee, 14 to 8, and awaits action by the full Senate

Legalizing prescription-drug importation is definitely a case of the tail wagging the dog: rather than take action to make health insurance more affordable and accessible, politicians are punishing the companies who make lifesaving medicines. Bashing corporations always makes good press, we suppose, but in this case it makes very little sense.

[permanent link]

The Next Phase In Psychiatry --- Largest-Ever Studies on Drugs for Depression, Schizophrenia Could Transform Treatment
Wall Street Journal, 7-27-05

Editor’s Notes:

Human beings share about 99.9% of their DNA. When it comes how individual patients respond to the same medicine, however, that last .1% might cause a fatal drug reaction—or none at all. This is particularly problematic when it comes to drugs for mental illness, because doctors and patients often have to experiment with several drugs, or even drug cocktails, before they find one that works. The National Institute of Health is trying to give doctors more guidance in treating mental illness by launching large clinical trials for several types of mental illness:

The results of the largest studies ever conducted of depression and schizophrenia will be released in coming months, potentially transforming the way patients are treated and shaking up some of the drug industry's most lucrative markets.

The federally funded studies are part of a six-year push by the mental-health division of the National Institutes of Health to come up with reliable scientific data on the differences between drugs and treatment strategies for the major psychiatric illnesses. The project comprises four trials, in serious depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and adolescent depression. The aim is to fill the information gap that plagues psychiatry, and hurts the quality of care given to patients. Clinical trials that companies do to get drugs approved aren't designed to provide the answers that doctors say they really need. For one, these trials don't compare one drug with another, because they are designed to show only whether a particular drug is effective against an illness. Thus, psychiatrists have little guidance on whether one drug works better than another or has fewer side effects than another.

The NIH’s program isn’t necessarily a bad idea in itself—more large-scale studies conducted in diverse patient groups may help physicians better understand underlying trends in mental illness and treatment. But the future of medicine lies in unraveling the mysterious .1% that makes all the difference in how patients metabolize drugs. Paying more attention to the underlying genetic and environmental factors affecting drug treatment will pay bigger dividends than pursuing more population based studies that inevitably leave doctors guessing how to treat individual patients.

[permanent link]

Drug ad controls pledged / Major firms plan to follow new volunteer rules
The San Francisco Chronicle, 8-3-05

Editor’s Notes:

Direct to consumer advertising (DTC)—TV ads that promote drugs directly to consumers—have come under fierce criticism for their role in promoting drugs with rare side effects (like Vioxx) and, supposedly, driving up consumer drug prices. Pharmaceutical companies have responded to these charges by publishing a new set of voluntary “Guiding Principles” for DTC that will take affect in January:

The nation's top drugmakers voluntarily pledged Tuesday to improve and restrict advertising designed directly for consumers, a practice that has drawn heightened scrutiny in the aftermath of recent drug safety controversies, such as the link between the pain - killer Vioxx and heart attacks.
Johnson & Johnson, Bristol Myers Squibb, Merck, Pfizer and 19 other firms agreed to comply with policies designed to eliminate exaggerated drug claims, warn people about risks, give drug regulators a better chance to reject TV spots before they air and ban adult topics like Viagra ads from family viewing hours.

The full list of guidelines can be found here. The guidelines suggest that pharmaceutical companies now recognize that they are the inevitable targets of consumer backlash—and Congressional ire—when rare risks debated in medical journals migrate onto the front-page of the New York Times. The only solution to this problem is to make consumers better educated participants in their own treatment. In short, savvy, fully informed patients are the industry’s best customers.

[permanent link]



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