Have you noticed the prices of prescription drugs lately? Some of these brand name drugs are costing patients ten to twelve percent more just since early January. And since 1961 drug prices hove gone up fifty-six percent — twice the rate of inflation in the Consumer Price Index.
It has been some years since a Congressional investigating committee examined the drug industry as Senator Estes Kefauver, in the early 1960s, and Senator Gaylord Nelson, during the 1970s, did with their committees. Without frequent legislative inquiries, this industry’s avariciousness finds boundaries difficult to observe.
Such a concern prompted Cyril Brickfield, executive director of the 21 million member American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), to make a little publicized address at a Washington conference in mid-February, sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association. The AARP operates the largest private, non-profit mail-order pharmacy in the world and it believes in the use of generic drugs as approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
These generic: drugs must meet the same chemical composition tests as do the equivalent and much higher priced brand name drugs. These later drugs, with their protective patents expired, bear the dollar burden f heavy advertising and promotional expenses. A generic: pill can cost as little as half or one-third f the brand name pill.
With greater consumer awareness, aided by the AARP, and with generic substitution laws in many states, the generic: drug industry has grown. What upsets Brickfield is that despite recent tax credits and patent term extensions granted the drug industry by Congress, prescription prices “have continued to skyrocket” and are now “the second highest out-of-pocket health cost for older Americans, exceeded only by the cost of long-term care.” He added that inflated pricing practices have “created havoc for millions of older Americans in terms of both their finances and their health.”
As if this inflation is not enough, a number of drug companies are using what Brickfield called “increasingly blatant attempts to dissuade American consumers from using equally effective, less costly, generic drug products.”
He told the drug makers that they are setting up front groups, with names like “Medicine in the Public Interest,” and paying academicians and practitioners to spread false information and fear through the media about the safety and efficacy of generic drugs.
Brickfield could have made on even stronger case against what he called this; “Smear and Fear” campaign against generic drugs. When presidents, senators, representatives, admirals and generals check into Bethesda Naval Hospital or Walter Reed Army Hospital, they are prescribed generic drugs. All the major drug disasters have involved brand name drugs like Oraflex and Selacryn not generics. Arid as Brickfield pointed out, the “breakthrough medicines we hear about today are being developed more frequently by researchers or academic institutions, riot drug companies,” with their self-touted research budgets.
The brand name drug sellers are focusing on getting doctors to write on their brand name prescriptions “Dispense as Written” (DAW) to discourage generic substitution by the pharmacists.
An internal memo circulating through one drug company’s sales force urges reminding physicians of all the freebies they receive in order to give them an “incentive” to stamp DAW on their prescriptions. The private
memo stated: “We give them samples, we provide educational films, we buy space in their journals so they con get them free, we pay a fortune to exhibit at their conventions so they get free convention site, we provide grants to them and their colleagues for clinical studies and research, and give them travel vouchers so they can present their papers of meetings.”
All these drug companies ask in return is for the physicians to make sure patients pay much more for their medicines.
AARP could wield more muscle on Congress. You may wish to write them at 1909 K Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006 to receive more information on this topic and urge them to be more aggressive pursuing their just cause.