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Banking on high drug prices

Want a saying everyone can bank on? How about this: Simple solutions never cross the minds of those who profit from long-standing problems.

Take the rising cost of health care. Consider how the price of prescription drugs has increased. For example, there's one anti-biotic that costs $33 per pill.

It stands to reason that if drug companies spent less on advertising to customers who can't even purchase medications without a doctor's prescription, then the cost to the customers would decrease. The size of the drug companies' wallets would also.

The people who run the drug companies spend more to make more. It drives up the consumers' cost, but it increases their profit. Therefore, no change.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. Just recently the drug company Pfizer was fined millions for marketing a drug that was approved to treat epilepsy.

"What's the problem with that?" you may ask. Neurontin was marketed as though it treated pain, bipolar disorder, headaches and an assortment of other psychiatric illnesses.

The company spent money to drive up the sales of a drug under false pretenses. Not to mention that what they did was illegal because Neurontin wasn't approved to treat those symptoms.

Ads for drugs like that are everywhere. If I had a dollar for every prescription drug ad I saw, I would be a millionaire. What this market saturation does is make people hypochondriacs.

They see a pill that promises to fix a problem they don't have, and they imagine the symptoms in themselves. They visit a doctor to demand the pill they saw on TV. Whether they need it or not is irrelevant to some doctors.

The numbers show this to be true. On the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research website -- which is run by the FDA -- a survey of doctors shows that 86 percent of patients who asked about drugs, asked for a specific drug by its brand name.

Of those, the doctor prescribed the medication the patient asked for 75 percent of the time. Ads affect how medication is prescribed, and that is depressing.

I think it's absurd to advertise something that people can't just go to the store and buy. And I think the government needs to step in and outlaw the advertising of prescription medication.

There's precedent for such a move. How many tobacco ads are on TV? None. That's because they're illegal. So banning advertising for a product not available to everyone is doable.

At the very least, outlawing prescription drug ads would unclutter our lives. Watched the evening news lately? Drug ads are about the only kind shown.

The problem is that the business is too lucrative for it to be customer friendly -- mainly because there's not a defined customer. Is it the doctor, or is it the patient?

All I know is that when drug reps make more than doctors, something is severely out of whack. After all, saving lives is more important than gouging people.

Talk about a statement you can bank on.

Web posted on Thursday, May 20, 2004

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