People's Pharmacy

September 01, 1992|By Joe & Teresa Graedon | Joe & Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

First the AIDS patients started marching. They acted up against the indifference of the medical establishment and the snail's pace of the Food and Drug Administration. Their tactics produced results, at least drawing attention to their plight.

Then breast cancer patients started speaking up. They are angry that so little research has been devoted to this common killer. Too many questions remain unanswered.

Now, at long last, the families of Alzheimer's patients are poised for action. They are the victims of federal foot-dragging and are ready to march on Washington.

Dr. William Summers discovered that a little-known drug called tacrine (THA or Cognex) could delay deterioration in some victims of this memory-robbing disease.

When he published his findings in 1986, the medical establishment was highly skeptical. Most researchers couldn't imagine that such an old-fashioned medicine could be of any benefit.

Since then, however, there have been a number of studies confirming that THA can help some patients. Tacrine is clearly no cure for Alzheimer's disease, but in certain cases it appears to allow patients to function well enough to stay at home with their families a few more months or years.

As we approach the sixth anniversary of Dr. Summers' publication, the FDA is still debating whether this drug should be approved. Every day that goes by an estimated 1,400 Americans die with this condition. Four million are afflicted, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Twenty million family members must stand by hopelessly as they watch their loved ones change and turn into strangers. The human suffering is incalculable.

We met Fred this week. He panics when his wife is out of sight for more than a minute. He gets lost even in his own neighborhood and is disoriented. Fred can no longer express his frustration and despair.

Alzheimer's patients like Fred can't speak out as AIDS or breast cancer patients can. Their caretakers are often too busy or exhausted to demonstrate. They must watch every move 24 hours a day and help with simple activities such as dressing, bathing, eating and going to the bathroom.

Dr. Summers has formed an organization that is planning a demonstration in front of the FDA Sept. 24, 1992. The goal is to speed approval of THA and any other promising medicines for Alzheimer's disease. The demonstrators will be grandchildren, friends or other stand-ins marching on behalf of Alzheimer's victims who can't walk or speak for themselves.

Thousands of signatures will be presented to FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler.

If you would like to add your name to the petition or write a letter urging the FDA to be more responsive, contact Dr. William Summers, 624 West Duarte Road, 101, Arcadia, Calif., 91007.

Volunteers to demonstrate are welcomed. They will gather from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at FDA Headquarters, 200 C street SW, Washington.

When a person is drowning, it would be immoral to withhold a life preserver. For Alzheimer's victims, THA may be the closest life jacket in sight.

We urge the FDA to speed approval of new medicines for this devastating disease. We applaud their willingness to make new AIDS drugs available promptly and wish they would realize Alzheimer's disease deserves the same treatment.

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