Thursday, March 22, 2007

On Drugs

Yesterday the director of the FDA put a new rule in place barring expert advisers from voting on whether or not to approve a drug or device if that adviser is receiving $50,000 or more from the maker of said drug or device. What a courageous and principled position: only takers of small bribes will be allowed to participate in the FDA approval process.

The rule is not something that the FDA just couldn't wait to put in place, but a pre-emptive measure to stave off a stricter bill being moved through the house by Representative Maurice D. Hinchey, Democrat of New York.

But even the Hinchey bill doesn't address the amounts of money that drug companies provide to members of congress for favorable legislation. Let's cast our memories way back to 2002, when people still loved George W. Bush, and the GOP had scored yet another victory in the midterm elections. The massive homeland security bill (475 pages) which was passed in the lame-duck session that year had two paragraphs at the end which protected Eli-Lilly from lawsuits over a mercury-laced childhood vaccine which was linked to increased rates of autism.

And the best part of the story: no one seemed to know how those two paragraphs found their way into the bill. It was the darnedest thing. Finally, Dick Armey, who was about to retire, took responsibilty. But no one, not even the drug companies, believed him - he didn't know enough about the issue. Like the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa, it remains a mystery to this day. And it is still law.

In June of that year, the GOP introduced a Medicare prescription drug benefit in the House of Representatives, which, not surprisingly, provided an awful lot of tax breaks and subsidies for the drug makers. On the second day of debate in the House, the GOP delegation moved to gavel out early. Why? They were going to be late for a $250,000 a plate fund raiser attended by the big drug companies.

And the Democrats, with all their new powers, will not do anything to prevent this type of mischief, because they take too much corporate money themselves.