Wednesday, December 03, 2008


If this brief 'blog' piece in the Los Angeles Times is any indication, large pharmaceutical companies may have a rough road ahead as the nation finally gets around to addressing national health care and its costs. Based on a study to be published today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., the post makes it clear the prescription medicine doesn't have to cost as much as PHARMA tells us it must.

The study was aimed at addressing the common perception that generic versions of such drugs as beta-blockers, diuretics, calcium-channel blockers, antiplatelet agents, statins, ACE inhibitors and alpha-blockers are somehow different than brand-name drugs. Generic drugs are often much cheaper and insurers sometimes pay only for generic brands. Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital examined 47 studies on the effectiveness of various cardiovascular medications. The majority of the studies found generic and brand-name drugs are equivalent. The researchers also looked at editorials and opinion pieces on the issue of brand-name-versus-generic and found more than half expressed a negative view of the interchangeability of the drugs.

The study also suggested that one of the reasons doctors continue to prescribe the more expensive brand-name drugs is the financial relationships often found between the companies and doctors. Well, that is no surprise. More than a few articles have come out the past couple of years describing this unholy alliance (e.g., see here and here).

And, of course, the big pharmaceutical companies spend billions promoting a new drug in television and radio commercials and in magazine and newspaper advertisements. Patients see the ads, clip the coupons, and trudge off to their doctors demanding the latest and bestest drugs.

What I found particularly interesting, however, was that the study also looked at the role the press plays in the scenario. Editorials and op-ed pieces, which most people believe are based on fact, not on commercial puffery, also have promoted the brand-name over the generic on the issue. Is it any wonder that patients believe that the brand-name drug is superior?

And isn't it interesting that this information is published in a 'blog,' rather than in the regular news section of the Los Angeles Times? Kinda makes the case complete, doesn't it.


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