Instead of spin, why don't drug companies just invent good products?
You will hear lots of my colleagues mercilessly criticizing pharmaceutical companies and their products in favor of natural products.
I want to make my position crystal clear. First, there are many pharmaceutical products that have saved lives and made the quality of our lives better. Pain medications like Percocet or Oxycontin play an important role in relieving human suffering. The problem is how doctors prescribe them and how the pharmaceutical company markets them.
Antibiotics have unquestionably saved lives, but again doctors have and do over prescribe them and the drug manufacturers have not responsibly discouraged this abuse. The bottom line is sales and revenues, not necessarily health!
To develop and produce each new drug costs hundreds of millions of dollars and many more millions are spent on drugs that end never making it to market, so pharmaceutical companies ought to be able to recoup their losses and profit when they have invested in the development of drugs that do change our lives.
But progress in drug therapy -- real progress -- is getting harder and harder to achieve. Drugs will soon be married to new delivery systems to reach parts of our anatomies and body chemistry. Many drugs may be eclipsed by genes engineered to change a bodily defect or stem cells that will simply repair or replace "defective" human tissue. Capitalism should be the driving force to stir corporate creativity and competitiveness to make new products and profits.
Instead, drug companies have become lazy and use spin to sell products that have little, if any, contribution to our health. These drugs often cost our struggling economy a lot of money, but, have little, if any, value. Example?
If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome with abdominal discomfort and constipation, Linzess (very similar to another drug already out called Amitiza) will soon be prescribed by the same doctors that overprescribe so many drugs like antibiotics and pain medications.
The drug works in your gut to increase intestinal fluid and the motility of bowel contents. A physician would have to treat five to eight IBS patients for up to six months for one to have significantly less abdominal pain and at least one additional bowel movement per week according to Prescriber's Letter, a very reliable drug information source. All this would come at a cost of $7 per day!
When a product has dubious value and high cost in a free market, it should fall off the radar screen in a truly competitive market. In fact, it should never have come about, but the pharmaceutical company wants to recoup its expenses and make a profit and that is the primary focus. It will not meet with competitive forces because the drug company's spin doctors (hired guns) will carefully create a marketing tale that will be sold to doctors and patients to create a demand and subsequent prescribing for a drug that we do not need in a society where everyone is looking for a pill to cure them of one thing or another. God only knows what the long term side effects will be of this drug.
Remember VIOXX? A lot of people died after taking that miracle drug for arthritis. We learned of its dangers well after it was on the market, so why take any new drug that has dubious value to begin with?
To the pharmaceutical company giants I say: Wake up! Be creative! I want you making lots of money by actually creating good things for our society. Tell your stockholders you might actually be developing a conscience!
Dr. Sam Benjamin, M.D. - Integrative Medicine, weekend show host