Greed of the drug industry too bitter for us to swallow

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, January 8, 2003

By By BILL KING- Kendall County Democratic Party Chairman
The New York Times has reported that the presidents of the major pharmaceutical companies held a meeting near Washington recently for a "strategic planning retreat."
On the agenda were plans to block proposals that would make it easy for people to buy low-cost generic versions of brand-name medicines. The reason the companies want to block access to generic drugs, of course, is that their profits would decline if generic drugs were widely available.
They have reason to be optimistic. They gave $30 million to candidates in the recent election and more than $250 million in lobbying expenses over the past two years. Studies show that most of the political contributions went to Republican candidates who now control both houses of Congress.
The Times quotes an executive as saying "Sure we will have more access. Our hand is stronger because of the election results, but who knows how much stronger it really is."
There have been many reports in the press about how the drug industry is holding up the production of generic versions of their drugs by the threat of lawsuits.
In effect, these threatened lawsuits are allowing the drug companies to keep their patents in force long after the patents have legally expired.
The tremendous financial strength of the large pharmaceutical companies scares off the makers of generic versions of drugs.
Even though the threatened lawsuits center around peripheral considerations like the shape of a pill or its color, most of the generic drug makers are small companies and cannot afford the cost of extended and very costly lawsuits. So they refuse to produce the generic drugs.
The result is that all of us have to pay much more for many widely used drugs. Seniors on fixed or limited incomes are especially hard hit.
"How do these people sleep at night?" one local Democrat commented. "The drug companies are among the most profitable companies in this country. They make billions of profits each year. And now they want poor people and senior citizens to turn over more of their limited incomes to the drug companies. The people that run these companies must be the most greedy people on earth."
Strong words, but that is how most of us feel.
We also believe it should be the role of the government, representing the public interest, to force the drug companies to comply with the law and cease these harassing lawsuits.
Several weeks before the election, when Republican polling showed the public was concerned on this issue, President Bush said he would do something to stop these lawsuits.
Most commentators thought his promised actions were weak and was mainly window dressing to influence the election.
The election is over and Bush must deliver.
This meeting by the drug companies represents a direct challenge to Bush.
To many of us, this issue is more important right now than Iraq and Bush needs to keep his promise by taking action now.