What Did They Say? Are They Serious?
“We need profit-making drug entities to do the development work and have success.”
In my continued defense of outrageous comments from critics, I have found my number one offender for 2011. This one comes from a blog from the New America Foundation, a think tank funded by a wide variety of foundations including Bill Gates, The Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, and numerous others normally funding PBS Television. They say they are non-partisan but their board indicates they are mostly Democrats.
Ok, so now for the outrageous comment by their “non-partisan” director of health policy Shannon Brownlee, who wrote the book Overtreated, which discussed how we have too many drugs, tests, procedures, and surgeries in the United States. I reviewed the book and thought it made many fair points. In a 12/13 blog written by Joe Colucci from The New America Foundation, who works for Ms.Brownlee; he said, in referring to future new blockbuster drugs, that it would be better if we did not have new ones! The reasoning is that the drug marketing machine creates blockbusters that we do not actually need. “Basically, the structure of the pharmaceutical industry pushes doctors toward prescribing and patients taking lots of pills that we don’t really need.” He goes on to quote Ms.Brownlee who says, “I think it would be more effective to outlaw, or at least curtail, direct-to-consumer drug advertising…”
This logic escapes me. If we had no blockbusters would we be healthier as a society? The evil drug makers would then have to make drugs that work. Hmmm. I thought doctors and patients made a drug a blockbuster because it solved a need, but maybe I am wrong. Maybe the whole medical establishment and all those dumb patients can be easily fooled. I think the anti-drug forces give too much credit to the drug detail forces and DTC experts for being able to sell stuff that is totally unneeded. Are doctors that gullible or bought off by a bag of donuts or a free pen?
The risk of people like Mr. Colucci and Ms. Brownlee painting a negative view of blockbuster drugs is that they feel they can decide what people need. Of course I agree there is some over-use of branded drugs but not nearly to the extent critics say.
It is easy for think-tanks to blast the drug industry, but who is going to make us healthy? Policy think-tanks do not create or prescribe drugs. Their arrogance is appalling and dangerous to medical innovation. Next time new killer bacteria emerge we will be glad a robust drug industry had some money in their coffers to do research to save us. Yes, some of that money may have come from some over use of anti-depressants, statins, antihistamines or GERD drugs. What policy wonks, who usually have never run a business, forget is that business needs profits and incentives to take risks.
So why not legislate that no drug can be over $500 million dollars. That way we can outlaw blockbusters and all the liberals will be happy that drug makers have low profits. Then we all can count on that heroic government scientist, usually successful in television or movies, to find our cure for the killer bug.
Unfortunately, the common movie scenario never happens. It is always better to portray the hero as a non-profit entity. Would George Clooney seem more heroic working for the NIH or Pfizer? I am afraid that we need these profit-making drug entities to do the development work and have success. As crass as it sounds, profits feed R&D, and drug companies would love to solve real medical problems. The reason is there is more money in giving doctors and patients what they need.
Bob Ehrlich, Chairman
DTC Perspectives, Inc