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Lessons learned from a last battle
Trial lawyer Fred Baron sought access to a controversial drug in his fight with cancer

Jeff Stier, JD
Medical Progress Today
November 21, 2008

Fred Baron, the Texas trial lawyer and Democratic fundraiser who lobbied on behalf of the plaintiffs bar, died of bone cancer on October 30. My sympathies go out to Mr. Bathe deal have not been reported.

This is not to say that Mr. Baron did anything wrong. Mr. Baron’s struggles, however, illustrate the complex and personal nature of patients’ drug safety decisions, and the foolishness of treating pharmaceutical companies (who make life-saving products) like tobacco companies.

Some self-proclaimed "consumer groups" and their allies in the plaintiff's bar see the issues differently. They advocate for FDA withdrawal of "dangerous drugs" (denying access even to patients who would willingly accept the risk of side effects) and much more onerous regulation of the industry and its products.

For instance, just last month Public Citizen, an ally of the plaintiff’s bar, petitioned the FDA to remove the diabetes drug Avandia from the market because the risk of death from liver failure and other risks "far outweigh[ed] its benefits," according to the group's director, Dr. Sidney Wolfe.

The problem is that is impossible for Dr. Wolfe to make that judgment. Each patient faces unique circumstances that might tip the risk v. benefit equation for a particular drug in a different direction. Even if Avandia isn't the best choice for all diabetes patients, the final decision should be left to physicians and their patients—armed with an informative drug label supplied by the FDA and the drug's manufacturer.

Plaintiff's firms also portray the pharmaceutical industry in the most negative light possible. Baron's former firm, Baron and Budd, P.C., has an entire section of its webpage dedicated to "unsafe drugs" which they suggest are more dangerous than illicit drugs. They even offer an 800 number to call if you think you've been harmed by drugs in your medicine cabinet.

The blanket condemnation of drugs issued by activists like Public Citizen and plaintiff's attorneys isn't in the best interest of patients—that is to say, everyone. Whether it is cancer, Alzheimer's, or diabetes, we will all be in Mr. Baron's shoes someday, turning to the much maligned drug companies for salvation, hoping that they will have a cure for us, and that regulators and lawyers won't have barred the door to those therapies in a vain quest to protect us from "risks."

I only hope that the legal and regulatory communities learn an important lesson from Mr. Baron's untimely death: Without "Big Pharma" and its medicines, it is true, there would be no drug risks. But there would also be no medical progress, and no hope for patients struggling with life-threatening diseases.

Jeff Stier, JD, is the Associate Director of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).

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