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by Julia Sneden

(Buying The Pharm part 3)**


It’s not really hard to understand why so many of our athletes have, in the past, given in to the temptation to use drugs. There’s a reason that steroids, stimulants, and human growth hormone (a.k.a. HGH) are called “performance enhancers.” They make you stronger and quicker. Of course, they also have long-ranging effects that are not so positive. We need only consider O.J. Simpson, whose alleged use of steroids has been posited as a cause for his violent temper and possibly the murder of his wife.

One would like to believe that the people receiving such drugs at least made an informed decision to do so, but it often appears that coaches and trainers may have tiptoed around the question, or in some cases indulged in outright deception, labeling shots of HGH as “vitamins.” In some cases, management has actually sanctioned drug use, or just looked the other way and neglected to educate athletes about its dangers.

In the industry that competitive sports have become, athletes have to make the most of the few years that they are viable. It is only a few athletes that reach the multi-million dollar range like A-Rod or Michael Jordan.

When an athlete retires, it’s not usually because he or she tired of the sport. It’s because the body has done what bodies are designed to do: peak and then slowly decline. So some athletes turn to those performance-enhancing drugs to keep themselves afloat as long as possible, hoping to hang onto their paychecks, ignoring the consequences.

We’ll probably never know for sure which athletes used drugs in earlier days. For a long time, performance enhancers weren’t even illegal. I’m not sure we should waste time asking who was using them. The time for that is past, and we will do well to focus our energies on the present and future, to be sure that our youngsters understand the perils — both legal and physical — of drug use.

Alas, Congress has leapt into fray with its usual ex-post-facto ability to find the political spotlight. It is hard to conceive of a more infuriating boondoggle than the recent hearings involving Roger Clemens. I cannot for the life of me understand why we are prying backwards into that “he said/he said” retroactive scandal. Enough, already: he’s gone from his profession. And who is to judge whether Clemens or his accuser is lying?

I shudder to think of the cost of that inquiry, both in terms of money and of time that our legislators could better spend investigating the pharmaceutical industry itself.

Drugs in sports are bad enough, but for my money, drugs on prime-time TV are worse.

Why do we put up with tasteless ads about erectile dysfunction and birth control and “male enhancement” and female lubricants, in our living rooms, in prime time? Why do we continue to put up with celebrity drug endorsements? Who thinks Sally Field or Dorothy Hamill is qualified to push a drug of choice?

To be a star at anything — entertainment, fashion, sports — is to occupy a position of great privilege. It looks as if that privilege has gone to the heads of more than a few stars. It may be that they enjoy the money they earn from endorsements, but it’s time for the public to remind them that they have also a responsibility to use their fame wisely ... which ought to preclude pill-pushing.

Recalls of drugs like Vioxx, which was marketed as a wonder drug to stop arthritis pain but turned out to be a killer that caused heart attacks and strokes, may give celebrities pause. One may hope.

Surely Congress could give us all a break by stuffing the genie known as DTCA (i.e. Direct To Consumer Advertising) back into the bottle. Until 1980, the drug industry advertised prescription drugs only to doctors. In 1980, Boots Pharmaceuticals ran print advertisements for two drugs. In 1983, the FDA imposed a voluntary moratorium on DTCA, but lifted it in 1985. That’s when the ads began to appear in all the major magazines and newspapers.

It wasn’t until 1997 that the FDA began working with the drug companies to see whether they could be allowed to push their products on television. That’s when we began to hear the selling messages loud and clear at dinnertime, with the “possible side effects” downplayed by a quick mention in a hushed voice, followed by an upbeat, feel-good moment to end the spot.

Those TV ads are not just unappetizing as television fare: they’re also a thorn in the side of the medical community. Doctors tell us that they must now waste a lot of time explaining to patients why the newest drug they’ve seen on TV isn’t at all appropriate for their conditions. Patients often argue and demand, and even set off on a round of new doctors until they find one who will give in and write a prescription.

The recent revelation that the FDA is under-funded and under-staffed is no surprise. While our legislators look into that problem, let’s be sure that they also ask serious questions about the influence that drug companies exert on the FDA itself. I expect we’re in for some shockers on that score. Given their track record, it’s unlikely that the pharmaceutical manufacturers conduct themselves with restraint.

It’s an incredibly powerful industry. It gives huge amounts of money to members of Congress, ensuring that our representatives won’t be eager to regulate its excesses. We need a hero (think Teddy Roosevelt and his “trust-busters”) to set things right.

The drug industry claims that advertising helps to offset their research and development costs, but the chairman of an AFL-CIO task force on prescription drugs notes that the industry spends over three times as much on marketing as it does on research and development.

That fact alone should make each one of us angry enough to email our congressmen to demand action. For that matter, you may be able to get somewhere by contacting your state representatives, too.

It will take major involvement from the general public to push our legislators into action. They will not want to kill the goose that has laid so many golden eggs. But unless something is done, we will continue to be plagued by those tasteless ads, never mind finding ourselves at the mercy of companies that put profit first, and push drugs that can have harmful side effects.

It is time for the citizens of this country to demand some action to reduce the influence wielded by the drug companies. A simple email to the addresses listed below will help to start the ball rolling.

For your Representative:

For your Senators:

If you need to find the names of your Representative and Senators, both sites have instructions on how to do so.

**Buying the Pharm, Part One

**Buying the Pharm, Part Two



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