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A runaway profit motive tends to feed on itself. Corporate milk (infant formula), complete with beguiling promotions, replaces mother’s milk. The drug companies see an opening. They sell mothers a drug to suppress natural lactation. The drug has undesirable side effects which may lead to another ailment requiring another drug.

Helped by professional psychotherapists, drug companies are pushing wider alarms over something called “attention deficit disorder” that supposedly afflicts youngsters enough to require Ritalin. Ritalin prescriptions are spreading like wildfire in the preteen and teen age group and it too has undesirable side effects.

Now comes the anti-obesity drug, dexfenfluramine (Redux, Wyeth-Ayerst/American Home Products) which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering approving for indefinite use. Eat fatty foods to your heart’s delight (sic), say many food companies by marketing their Fatty products. Take our drug, dexfenfluramine, says its marketeers to suppress your appetite. (All this increases the gross national product.)

Should Dr. David Kessler’s FDA approve this drug for indefinite use it would mean that he believes the drug is (1) effective, (2) has been proven safe for lifetime use, (3) reduces the health risks of obesity, and (4) has health benefits outweighing any potential risks of using the drug.

Six months ago, 22 neurologists and other neuroscientists wrote the FDA asking that the approval of dexfenfluramine be delayed until a proper evaluation is made of its neurotoxicity.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group (P. 0. Box 19404, Washington, DC 20036) in a recent letter to Dr. Kessler pointed to evidence “showing dexfenfluramine only results in a meager weight loss, a degree of loss that is of unknown value in reducing the health risks of obesity; its association with a rare but serious adverse reaction, primary pulmonary hypertension, and unanswered questions about its potential to cause neurotoxicity in humans.”

There have also been recent reports from the British government about serious adverse effects and fatalities from prescribing appetite suppressants, including dexfenfluramine. For these reasons, France and Britain have restricted the use of this drug to three months.

The drug manufacturers of appetite suppressants have had years to prove that these products reduce the health risks of obesity and have not been able to do so. Yet they are relentlessly pressuring the FDA to approve this drug dexfenfluramine for indefinite use by consumers.

Dr. David Kessler seems to be bucking under the attacks on the FDA by cruel politicians in Congress and industry lobbyists. He approved the fat substitute “Olestra” despite many reputable scientists’ pleas to him about this product’s harmful effects. His agency’s Food section is not any better than it was under President Bush.

He is insufficiently skeptical about genetically engineered products. He seems to be weakening, under this business barrage, from his reputation as one of the finest FDA Commissioner ever.

There is something unseemly though in the corporate rush to profit from one industry causing harm and another industry selling products to ineffectively counter the harm which products may also be causing another harm which creates another market ad infinitum. This is why gross national product figures are so suspect and one reason why people have to spend more money to stay even with their standard of living.

The consumer movement challenges the quality of the gross national product — how much go to housing, good food and clothing and how much goes to expenses for being defrauded, harmed and aggravated by bad sellers in the marketplace. How much of our taxpayers monies go to bailouts of crooked banks and corrupt Mexican oligarchs, and how much goes to rebuilding our schools, clinics, mass transit and drinking water systems?

It gets you thinking about who designs these yardsticks for measuring our economy’s activity.