Identical drugs are often cheaper in other countries

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY

February 22, 1994|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

Drug company executives are crying the blues. Their industry has taken some heavy hits in recent weeks.

The General Accounting Office compared drug prices in the United States and Great Britain and found that Americans are paying a lot more for the same medicine. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., complains that "the U.S. is substantially subsidizing low drug prices for the rest of the world."

Congress also accuses the industry of not living up to its promise to keep drug prices in line with inflation. Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., released a report showing that two-thirds of the most popular medications rose more than the consumer price index.

Industry officials respond that direct price comparisons are unfair because of deep discounts in the United States. They also point out that profits are down and they have had to lay off thousands of workers in recent months.

Perhaps the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PMA) has a guilty conscience. This trade organization spent millions last year on ads in popular magazines trying to persuade Americans that prescription drugs are a bargain.

These messages are emotional and convincing. Too bad they imply that the people featured in them are real. We have discovered that these compelling photographs and stories are fabrications. The people portrayed are models.

Americans can no longer afford to help underwrite medicine in the rest of the world. Drug company executives should read our mail.

One woman wrote: "Both my parents are on Social Security and have no other income. My father is on eight medications for life. My mother takes high blood pressure and stomach medicine. They skip pills so the medicine will last longer. Social Security does not cover $300 a month for medicine. I help as much as I can, but I'm retired and have my own medical expenses."

Steve: "I lost my insurance after an industrial accident disabled me three years ago. My medication bill is up to $400 a month so I am rationing medication and doctor visits."

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.

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