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"Neutrality is not dead," said the Swiss Ambassador to the United Nations, "It is just not so relevant anymore." - New York Times > F. Nick Michaels > Evening News on Drugs (05-18-02)
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Evening News on Drugs

F. Nick Michaels,Intervalist
Evening 05.18.02-St. Louis, MO

I was watching the CBS Evening News with Russ Mitchell (it was the weekend version), and at about a quarter to six they did a story on some a new drug that has effects similar to chemotherapy but "without the painful side effects". The only "depth" they gave to this story was the tale of and interview with a 73 year-old woman from Queens. She had been through two rounds of radiation, and it wasn’t working. So she started taking this pill and her tumor was shrinking, "without the painful side effects". Now, this pill only works for a certain type of cancer. Also, it is only in the experimental stages, and won’t be available for quite a while. Thus, by running this story, they create an "fervor" for this new drug within some small group of people. And with a large group, they create awareness of this new product as well, a free advertisement. Americans are watching any number of reputable news programs across the country and they see the story of this wonderful new drug. People trust the news to give them information. They trust the news, and often believe that these news organizations have the most comprehensive information. It is also commonly assumed that these shows do a good job of deciding what is "news" and giving this information to their viewers. At least, that what I used to think about the news when my parents were watching Jim Gardner and Peter Jennings in their eastern 1980s home. Maybe now it’s just for entertainment and weather.

I watched til the end of the program, and in the six minutes of commercials that were included, I counted 38% for name brand drugs. Now I only counted commercials that were actually commercial; that is, I ignored any network self-promotion or government sponsored ads. Viagra, Altace, Viax, Aleve, Dulcolax, and Icy Hot. Now with oligopolistic advertising like this, and manly middle-aged athletes and celebrities such as Nolan Ryan, Rafeal Palmero, Sterling Marlin, Jack Nicholson, Dan Reeves, Nell Carter, and even Bob Dole hocking their merchandise, what more could they possible do to boost sales? How about reputable news programs like CBS Evening News with Russ Mitchell touting your wares?

Still, drug companies aren’t all bad. They invent new things to make people feel better when nothing else can. They take away our headaches and our sniffles. But I’ll give you an example of why I think all this advertising and all these news reports might not be the best idea. AstraZeneca, the makers of the "purple pill", Prilosec, are currently in court fighting to extend the patent on the medicine past its scheduled twenty-year expiration date. (An in depth story on this is available thanks to the Washington Post at While they are in litigation, the company retains sole right for the sale of this drug. Meanwhile, the company is working on a newer version of the same drug, Nexium, and is advertising hard to get Prilosec users to switch. That new patent won’t expire for another twenty years.

I take name brand prescription drugs, or I did when I had health care. I’ve got allergies and asthma and I take/took a number of medications for these. But I went to the doctor with a problem, the doctor made a diagnosis, and he prescribed what he believed to be the best medicine. It worked well for a while and then didn’t. I went back to the doctor, he checked me out, and gave me an alternative. It worked well for a while and the didn’t and so on. Now it’s just a thought of mine, but these ads and this reputable news program got me thinking. Doctors have trained for many years, they know a lot of things that most people don’t know about medication and they’re already getting our money because they’re the only ones allowed to write prescriptions. Do you really your money supporting even more Mercedes payments and golf games?

One Response to “Evening News on Drugs”
  1. dryarrum, on May 25th, 2002 at 3:37 pm, said:

    Welcome to capitalism at its best. make no mistake, it is still the best system that has survived economic evolution . But ethics lags far behind profits. there is nothing in the Hippocratic oath that pledges a doctor or pharmacist to a middle class income, particularly if he sends his children to the best universities. Buy stocks in pharmaceutic companies and enjoy the conflict of interests.

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