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Again, the absolute inability to consider obvious solutions

2011 August 26
by Ian Welsh

The NYTimes on solutions to the scarcity of important drugs which are generic and thus of little interest to big pharma:

Beyond limited responses, like using the F.D.A.’s discretionary powers to expedite temporary imports of drugs that are sold overseas but not here, there are very few ways to ease the crisis. For the longer term, bipartisan bills in Congress would require drug makers to give the F.D.A. six months’ warning of problems that might disrupt supplies. For that to work, the penalties for noncompliance would need to be stiff.

Other proposals include a national stockpile of critically important drugs, incentives to encourage the manufacture of generic drugs, and broader powers and additional resources for the F.D.A. to head off looming shortages. Some, perhaps many, Congressional Republicans will inevitably oppose an expansion of the F.D.A.’s regulatory authority. This cannot and must not be a fight over ideology. For many Americans, it is a fight for their lives.

Why not either just have the government manufacture them, or force the firms to do it?  There are more than a few ways to do so, including the war powers, act, I’m not even going to bother going into detail.  This is an issue of will, not means.

We pretend our age is non-ideological, but it is so ideological it can’t even see its ideology.  FDR or any president through Nixon, at least, and their Congresses, would have understood how to solve such a problem.

People are dying, but our leaders value the idea that the government shouldn’t do anything the private sector might do far more than they do the lives of their citizens.

23 Responses
  1. John Casper permalink
    August 26, 2011

    Thanks Ian.

    I’ve heard that legalizing pot would take away anywhere from a 1/10 to a 1/2 of Big Pharma’s revenues. I hope the “Just Say Now,” campaign works in 2012.

  2. August 26, 2011

    Hi Ian,
    The NYT piece also fails to note that this week the same federal government fined Google 500 million for showing Canadian pharmacy ads to gmail users. Maybe I’m just unsophisticated and don’t understand these things are actually unrelated.

    http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/24/google-reaches-500-million-settlement-with-government/

  3. August 26, 2011

    The US government has been aggressively dedicated to international patent protection and international intellectual property rights for decades, so all they’d have to do to improve the situation significantly is to quit doing what they’re doing. Somebody would figure out how to solve the problem then. The Times is actively playing dumbv.

  4. August 26, 2011

    And if you get bitten by a rattlesnake or a coral snake or a black widow? Meh. Deal with it. BigPharma doesn’t make the anti-venoms any more. They aren’t profitable enough.

  5. John B. permalink
    August 26, 2011

    Really? is that true? So, if you go to the hospital they can’t get the anti venom?

  6. August 26, 2011

    Jared Diamond, in Collapse, documented the failure of quite a number of societies due to ideological blindness.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collapse:_How_Societies_Choose_to_Fail_or_Succeed

    Looks like the U.S. is headed straight down that road.

    Carolyn Kay
    MakeThemAccountable.com

  7. Shoes4Industry permalink
    August 26, 2011

    Any discussion of the health industry, medicare or the national deficit the does not address the U.S. obesity epidemic is specious!

    If the current “obesity epidemic” continues unchecked, 50% of the U.S. adult population will be obese — with body mass index values of 30 or higher — by 2030, researchers said.

    Wang and colleagues also projected that, as a result of the burgeoning obese population, the U.S. will see the following health impacts:

    6 to 8.5 million more people with diabetes
    5.7 to 7.3 million more cases of heart disease and stroke
    490,000 to 670,000 additional cancers
    26 to 55 million quality-adjusted life-years lost

    The economic burden of these increasing morbidities will be substantial, the researchers indicated — medical expenditures alone will be higher by $48 to $66 billion annually by 2030, without taking into account lost productivity and other indirect costs associated with a generally sicker population.

    An important finding was the rising burden of obesity among people 60 and older, the researchers emphasized. Of the 65 million additional obese people projected in the U.S. in 2030, 24 million would be in this age range.

    This population — already the sickest and most expensive in terms of medical costs — is the fastest-growing in the U.S. and Britain. Therefore, the overall disease burden and economic effects of obesity may be magnified.

    http://www.medpagetoday.com/PrimaryCare/Obesity/28201

  8. Ian Welsh permalink*
    August 26, 2011

    That has the wiff of very high quality spam. So high quality, that I’ll leave it be.

  9. Celsius 233 permalink
    August 27, 2011

    Shoes4Industry PERMALINK
    August 26, 2011
    Any discussion of the health industry, medicare or the national deficit the does not address the U.S. obesity epidemic is specious!
    If the current “obesity epidemic” continues unchecked, 50% of the U.S. adult population will be obese — with body mass index values of 30 or higher — by 2030, researchers said.
    ========================
    This particularly chaps my ass; the obesity epidemic.
    Physician, heal thyself!
    This case? It’s clearly self-abuse, aided by unabashed ignorance. The poverty isn’t so much one of money, as it is one of knowledge; willful ignorance, coupled with apathy.
    I’ve seen the immense mothers shopping at Fred Meyer/Safeway/Albertsons loading up on frozen pizzas (on sale for under $1 each) along with mac & cheese and any other fat laced comfort foods that are cheap.
    Teach these people nutrition for crying out loud.
    Sorry, this goads me no end and has for over 30 years; same shit different day/week/year/decade.

  10. BDBlue permalink
    August 27, 2011

    Cheap is the most important word. Eating healthy can be expensive and it takes time – those are two things poor Americans lack, money and time. Add in food deserts, a real problem in a lot of neighborhoods and the inclination to put people on various drugs (many of which make ‘em lethargic) and it’s no wonder we have an obesity “epidemic”. And of, course, there’s growing evidence that they’re putting “addictive” things into processed foods making you crave them and there’s some indication that by poisoning our environment, we’re also making ourselves fat. The whole thing is a huge FAIL, but it’s not as much of an individual fail as our corporate masters and elite would have everyone think. It’s a social FAIL, led by corporate greed (see, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Food).

    Here are two excellent blog posts that discuss how hard it is for poor people to be able to feed themselves at all, much less afford expensive calories like fresh vegetables. Here’s The Red Queen and here’s Anglachel.

    But, again, I’ll stress that eating may only be part of our problem. Environmental (read: chemicals), pharmaceutical, and other factors may also be adding to our obesity problem.

  11. StewartM permalink
    August 27, 2011

    Shoes4Industry

    Any discussion of the health industry, medicare or the national deficit the does not address the U.S. obesity epidemic is specious!

    *Wrong*. The preeminent factor in longevity and good health seems to be access to health care. We see this in comparison of the US vs Western European nations and Japan–the US population actually smokes less and drinks less heavily, and possibly exercises more, but these outlive us. That’s *not* because smoking and heavy alcohol consumption promote good health (they don’t), or that exercise is bad. It’s just that access to health care is such a HUGE factor in promoting longevity. Heck, you see the same disparity within the US (it’s probably the main reason why moderate alcohol consumption looks “healthy” when it probably isn’t; you end up comparing the college-educated and well-far vs those who aren’t).

    As for obesity, it’s way overstated as a health risk, as a New Scientist article I read not too far back stated. In fact, there’s very little difference between the expected longevity of people with BMIs of classified as “overweight” (but not “obese”) and people whose BMIs fall within the desired range. Moreover, people who are “overweight” seem to have better survival chances when undergoing drastic surgery or hospitalization than normal BMI people do.

    I think the problem lies with what we eat more than how fat we are, medically speaking.

    -StewartM

  12. August 27, 2011

    That has the wiff of very high quality spam. So high quality, that I’ll leave it be.

    A sporting chap, this Ian Welsh. :)

  13. StewartM permalink
    August 27, 2011

    Ian Welsh

    That has the wiff of very high quality spam. So high quality, that I’ll leave it be.

    In matters health, the “danger” posed by any particular “problem” and how much it is pumped by the media is strongly correlated to whether or not you have to purchase something to fix it.

    I.e., melanoma is a problem pumped by the media (8,000 deaths per year) because you should buy sunscreen. Alcoholism (a minimum of 100,000 deaths per year) is less pumped because the solution involves people NOT buying something. As for obesity, the degree it is pumped by the media will be the result of the battle between the diet and exercise industry vs the fast food industry.

    My cynical 2 cents.

    StewartM

  14. August 27, 2011

    Learned, and stubbornly clung-to helplessness.

  15. Ian Welsh permalink*
    August 27, 2011

    Longevity and health aren’t the same thing. There comes a point in many people’s lives where they’re alive, sure, but they aren’t enjoying it. Being fat helps in hospitalization, among other reasons, because you can live off your own body and in large parts of hospitalization getting enough food (even if they put in some sort of feeding system, I was getting mush to my veins) is a huge problem. Weight loss is ordinary in hospitals.

    Also, Canadians, for example, live longer than many other nations despite less health care.

    Health care’s a big deal, if a huge chunk of your population ain’t getting it.

  16. anon2525 permalink
    August 27, 2011

    The US government has been aggressively dedicated to international patent protection and international intellectual property rights for decades, so all they’d have to do to improve the situation significantly is to quit doing what they’re doing. Somebody would figure out how to solve the problem then. The Times is actively playing dumb.

    Agreed.

    It’s false to say that there is a shortage of some kinds of drugs because of “ideology.” What would that principle be? That the government should not be involved in the production of drugs, presumably. But, of course, that “principle” is not followed even remotely. It is a ruse or a distraction to keep people from realizing that the government is heavily involved in the production of drugs, both in its protection of the drug companies and their profits, and in the (police and military) force and money used to oppose other drugs that the drug companies do not produce (and which could be grown by anyone). Only no one is fooled by this ruse any more, so it is simply propaganda that is spouted so that politicians and editorial writers will have something to say.

    So, the nytimes is wrong to claim that there is a shortage because of “ideology,” and Ian Welsh is wrong to claim that it is due an unawareness of ideology (“as common as water is to a fish”). It is because drug companies and prison companies pay lobbyists to write legislation and because drug companies and prison companies donate heavily to campaigns, and finally because politicians are part of the socioeconomic class (their relatives and friends) that benefit from the profits that these industries make (“What’s good for GM is good for America”). Rinse and repeat for all of the protected and promoted sectors of the economy.

  17. beowulf permalink
    August 29, 2011

    There are more than a few ways to do so, including the war powers, act, ”

    Close enough, Defense Production Act (50 USC 2071).
    “(a) Allocation of materials, services, and facilities
    The President is hereby authorized… (2) to allocate materials, services, and facilities in such manner, upon such conditions, and to such extent as he shall deem necessary or appropriate to promote the national defense.”

    A President has legal authority to do just about anything if the action is framed in terms of providing for the common defense. No one expressed this principle better than Winston Churchill.
    “Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion.”
    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/joe_conason/2009/08/14/healthcare

  18. Shoes4industry permalink
    August 29, 2011

    Stewart M-

    Please note that the projection is for 50% of the population to be OBESE, not simply over weight. Big ( pun intended) difference. This will be a major driver of increased health care costs .

  19. Shoes4industry permalink
    August 29, 2011

    Obesity seems to be the third rail of public discourse.

    Where is the corporate incentive to keep people in a position of being any thing other than over weight, chronically sick and massively in debt? Isn’t it the job of the government to help protect people from this corporate agenda?

  20. August 29, 2011

    I have been taking Plavix for some years. A couple years ago my provider switched me to a generic at slightly lower copay to me and vastly lower cost to them, and I was on that for about six months. Then the maker of the generic was hit with a lawsuit from the maker of Plavix, even though the patent on Plavix has expired, and they ceased making the generic. I went back to the brand name because the generics are no longer available.

    This is all too common and is a significant part of the reason for drug shortages. The maker of Plavix was not going to win that lawsuit, but they made it so expensive that it became unprofitable for the generic manufacturer to continue the manufacture of the competetive product. The result of this abuse of the legal process is shortages of drugs, and higher costs even when shortages do not occur.

    Having the government take over the manufacture of drugs, or stockpile them, is not the solution, but to stop the abuse by drug companies by punishing frivolous lawsuits.

  21. Shoes4Industry permalink
    August 29, 2011

    Bernie Sanders’ common sense, tax saving solution… http://tinyurl.com/3oeuuy8

  22. Shoes4Industry permalink
    September 12, 2011

    Great graphic… http://tinyurl.com/3toay4r

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