17 November 2008

REFLECTIONS ON CHESS


THE WASHINGTON TIMES REPORTED TODAY that news ads by the world’s largest pharmaceutical lobbying group will appear on American televisions this week. The multi-million ad buy, targeting well over 100 million households, will be part of an aggressive public relations campaign designed to “undercut an expected push by the Obama administration for price controls of prescription drugs,” according to the Times.

Ken Johnson, senior vice president with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA told reporter Sean Lengell, “We've been moving the pieces on the chess board around for some time now getting ready for next year, and we've got a great game plan in place."

I am not a chess player, so I consulted the good people at 101 Chess Tips in order to better understand the pharmaceutical chess analogy. The first thing I read was the following:

“Have you ever found yourself dominating a game, leading in pieces, and yet struggling to put your opponent into checkmate? Have you ever chased a king around the board, frustrated that you could not find that all important checkmate position?”

In the chessboard that is modern healthcare, PhRMA is committed to winning the game at any cost. It was PhRMA who tried to eliminate competition back in the 90s by paying for so-called Public Service Announcement (PSAs) on television. The ‘PSAs’ they concocted pertained to Quackery — and their message was clearly aimed at destroying the credibility of nutritional supplements and Alternative Medicines. The ads, which featured, you guessed it, a duck — basically told viewers that alternative medicines were the modern-age equivalent of snake oil: deceptive, dangerous, and even deadly. As by design, the PSAs that ran widely on TV and Radio were co-sponsored by none other than the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — the very ‘regulators’ charged with keeping the pharmaceutical industry honest.

The cozy, fraternal relationship between FDA and PhRMA is explained quite clearly in my new film GENERATION RX, proving that much like Wall Street, the regulatory agency responsible for the oversight of the nation’s most powerful industries is missing in action — and worse. Rather than being castigated by elected officials for their crimes, the FDA has usurped more power over the past few decades. The sad irony is, of course, that FDA fails miserably at the job they are paid by tax dollars to do — namely keep food and drugs safe for American consumers. Instead of worrying about toxic mercury in Tuna, for example, FDA chooses to harrass harmless vitamins. It’s Big Business at the FDA, where they uncritically support the monpolistic visions of PhRMA, and drug companies in general.

As my film points out, FDAs blind cooperation is not only unethical, it is illegal, yet the chess game continues. PhRMA and the FDA know that the players keep changing every few years in Congress — and that few have the spine to challenge them.

GENERATION RX unveils scurrilous secret letters, faxes and other documents that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the FDA was keenly aware of the suicide risk and other dangers associated with Prozac. The film also shows that the FDA and Eli Lilly shared “strategies” on how to deal with any ensuing controversy. Then they pushed antidepressants (SSRIs) on kids by using ficticious science based on the “biological model of mental illness,” and did so, according to Pulitzer prize nominated science writer Robert Whitaker, “even though they knew that the evidence did not support their conclusions.”

This SSRI collusion began in 1986, and for all we know, it exists today. FDA did, after all, remove the amino acid L-Tryptophan from the market mere months after Prozac was introduced because it was perceived to be a threat to Prozac. Next, the FDA ignored warnings from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and helped create a billion dollar industry targeting ‘ADHD Kids,’ even though science did not support their claims.

Now, Mr. Johnson claims that PhRMA would've embarked on exactly the same ad campaign if John McCain had won last week's presidential election. Of course. It's called hedging your bets. Big Pharma planned to win no matter who is President.

SINCE CLASS-ACTION LAWSUITS and other legal remedies for consumers who fall victim to prescription drugs are now being threatened (read my blog called A SUPREME TEST OF PATIENTS’ RIGHTS), I am reminded of a possible solution put forth by Barry Turner, who appeared in GENERATION RX. Turner is a lecturer in law, specializing in medical law and medical ethics at Lincoln University and at Leeds Law School in England. In a fascinating exchange, Professor Turner discuss whether by Pharma’s way of thinking, it is more wise to settle out of court to and to keep lawsuits away from the pervue of the general public.

Kevin P. Miller: “As with Ford or GM or Peugeot or whomever, if they know that they have a gas tank that might explode — or something that may cause a liability concern, don’t big corporations often factor this into the cost of doing business? Ford knew, for example, that their 1970s Pinto could explode if hit from the rear, but they chose not to recall the Pinto to fix it, as it would have been too expensive. Instead, they chose to deal with individual lawsuits in dozens of separate states. Don’t the pharmaceutical companies look at this the same way when a product has deadly side effects?”

Barry Turner: “Yeah, the pharmaceutical companies certainly factor personal injury litigation into marketing and R&D, which is why suing drug companies with personal injury litigation will not change the way they act. They can afford to do it.”

But then, Turner introduced something I had not considered, legislation created in the wake of the Enron and Worldcom scandals. It is called the Sarbanes Oxley Act.

According to Wiki, Section 802(a) of the SOX, 18 U.S.C. § 1519 states:
“Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

“I think it is unlikely,” Mr. Turner said in our interview, “that they can factor in the effects of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which is the thing that I am working on at the moment. Hopefully that will change their tune. You cannot factor in a 20 year jail sentence into your marketing strategy.”

Indeed.

In chess, the King is the most important piece. The object of the game is to trap the opponent's king and capture it. Since we are the pawns in this high stakes game — and since the drug companies are looking to end the game before a new administration even begins — perhaps some wise elected officials will consider the wisdom of Barry Turner as they pursue justice for the “Kings” of Medicine.

If they have the courage to do so, the illegal collusion that's become so common between FDA and the drug companies would finally end. Accountability would be restored — or else drug company execs would go to prison.

That, my friends, to use the vernacular of Chess, would be called “Checkmate” — and it can't come soon enough.

1 Comments:

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