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A nation sold on drugs

August 20, 2007

I read with great interest ["Under the Influence"] in the Aug. 6 Health section because I, at one time, would only use brand-name medications.

Even though I belong to a Medicare HMO, the co-pays sometimes were quite substantial. I was forced to buy some of my medications from Canada, the United Kingdom and even Israel. I started to ask my primary physician for generics, and to my surprise he was able to find generics that served the same purpose as the nationally advertised drug.

Today I use only generics -- except in one instance, because there is no generic yet on the market.

It is entirely up to patients to insist that their physician prescribe generics whenever possible. It is amazing how much money they could save.

Leonard Small

Oceanside

Congratulations to Melissa Healy for her superb articles about the relationship of drug companies to academia and to the population at large.

The only thing she left out is a description of our society's hunger for everything new. From iPhones to Harry Potter books to the latest and most expensive drug, we are insatiable.

The good part is that our society stimulates and supports innovation, so we are responsible for most of the life-enhancing developments of the last 100 or more years.

The bad thing is that we gullibly try everything new whether or not it offers an advantage, whether or not it is risky.

Stanley G. Korenman

Korenman is professor of medicine and associate dean for ethics at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.

Thank you, Melissa Healey, for the excellent series, which leaves no doubt as to why the public has steadily lost faith in the medical profession over the last several decades. But there is indeed reason to hope, as evidenced in new force by the emergence of the National Physicians Alliance, a multi-specialty advocacy organization that strictly refuses financial entanglements with the pharmaceutical and biomedical industries.

Lydia J. Vaias Santa Monica

Vaias is president of the National Physicians Alliance.

Melissa Healy's series examining the pharmaceutical industry's influence on doctors and patients ignores a key reality. Physicians have absolute control over their relationship with Big Pharma by virtue of their professional monopoly on prescribing medicines.

However, the life-changing pharmaceutical breakthroughs resulting from the trillions of dollars that investors have risked in pharmaceutical research have occurred only in the last six decades.

Only one in many thousands of molecules will result in a commercially viable medicine, and only one-third of those earn enough to make a profit.

It is not surprising that people who risk their savings this way demand that their employees, the pharmaceutical executives, make every effort possible to get successful medicines to the patients they would benefit.

Sales, marketing and advertising are necessary for competition and innovation in any human activity. The legislative and regulatory interference Healy describes will only reduce the funds available for medical research and development.

John R. Graham

San Francisco

Graham is director of health care studies for the Pacific Research Institute.

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