Friday, August 20, 2010

Prescription sugar

I read the other day that Britain's National Health Service sometimes pays for homeopathic prescriptions.

Blah blah, insert rant here about giving taxpayers' money given to snake-oil merchants, undermining the authority of the medical profession, and generally reducing western civilisation to a smoking ruin. But the fact is, I can't get terribly worked up about this.

The Department of Health says it doesn't know how much of the NHS drugs budget is spent on snake oil, but it's "a tiny fraction (approximately 0.001%)". How they can know this figure without knowing an actual figure - is a subject for reasonable suspicion, but even if they're out by a couple of orders of magnitude, it still suggests that there are more important things to worry about. Namely, the other 99.9(99)% of the budget.

I'd bet that a considerably higher fraction of that budget goes to AstraZeneca, a company with a documented record of deliberately hiding the truth about its own products. And the company is not unusual in that; what it's been caught doing is entirely standard industry procedure.

This isn't even news. We've known it anytime this past quarter-century. And yet we continue to pay these companies to poison us and lie to us about it.

I have a simple suggestion for the NHS: it should refuse to pay for any drug or treatment that is covered by a patent. Patients who want those treatments should have to find some other way to pay for them. Generic drugs are vastly cheaper, better tested (by 20 years of actual use), and more honestly marketed. Let the NHS stick to those.

(Remember, patents expire after 20 years, so that would still allow every drug and treatment that was available before 1990, and medicine wasn't exactly in the dark ages then.)

Of course, no sooner were this rule suggested, than a thousand and one "patients' groups" would form to lobby, loudly, for this or that exception. And most of them wouldn't even pause to think that they were acting as pawns of the pharmaceutical industry.

I wonder if the directors of those companies ever have nightmares of creating the perfect drug - one that actually cures a condition, with no bad side-effects? Because that would be the death of their business model.

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