Pharmaceutical companies are evil (Part MCXII)

Apparently the stimulus bill includes just over a billion in funding to study the comparative efficacy of medical treatments.  Makes perfect sense in a sensible world– i.e., let's focus our resources on treatments that work best and not waste resources on less effective treatments and drugs.  Of course, that's anathema to the pharmaceutical industry and apparently they are doing all they can to stop it (h/t Kevin Drum).  They'd prefer we keep wasting our money on less effective drugs as long as they can sell them for a profit.  

Of course, what's seriously disturbing is that even when we clearly know which treatments are more effective, the drug lobby can still have their way (via Ezra Klein a while back):

The study cost $130,000,000 and included 42,000 patients. It compared
the effectiveness of four types of blood pressure drugs: a calcium
channel blocker, an alpha blocker, an ACE inhibitor, and a simple
diuretic. The diuretic performed best. It was the sort of finding
worthy of celebration. Health costs are too high, and rising too quick.
Our flabby society gets bad readings when it straps on the blood
pressure cuff, and soon enough we'll all be on these drugs. And here
were study results saying that the diuretic, a generic drug which sells
for pennies, outperformed its pricey, patented competitors. So what
happened? Not a whole lot…

Diuretics sales jumped, but only by a few percentage points. "[They]
should have more than doubled," says Curt Furberg, who chaired the
study. And in a world where doctors prescribe medications based on a
simple reading of the latest evidence, maybe they would have doubled.
But we don't live in that world. We live in a world where
pharmaceutical companies have big budgets and sophisticated public
relations teams…

 The basic reality was this: The pharmaceutical companies had a skilled
team and a lot of money promoting their drugs. No one was promoting the
generic diuretics. Folks looking to things like comparative
effectiveness review to save the health care system should take the
story seriously. Evidence is only effective if physicians use it.

Obviously, a lot needs to be done to reign in the power of the pharmaceutical companies.  They do, of course, do a lot of good (my son Alex would have daily seizures if not for them), but put far too much effort in creating a worthless new drug, E.g., Clarinex, because the previous version, Claritin, just went generic. 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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