Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

Eco-Porn, Pharma-Porn

by Molly Ivins

Just as we are learning to cope with eco-porn suddenly they unleash a flood of pharma-porn on us
We're all used to eco-porn by now; those beautiful television ads featuring some natural jewel, during which an announcer with a four-balls voice tells us how much Exxon or some other gross polluter is doing to keep our precious earth green.

We always get a get a lot of this greenwashing after oil-spills or whenever Congress contemplates regulating anything. The enviros keep track of the worst eco-porn offenders and, on April Fool's Day this year, Earth Day Resources saluted oil company BP Amoco, for its nonsensical campaign about being "beyond petroleum"; Boise Cascade, for its claim that it supports "sustainable forests"; Coca-Cola, for breaking its 1990 promise that it would use 25 percent recycled materials in its plastic bottles; Royal Dutch Shell, whose "Profits and Principles" ads do not mention the company's anti-environmental positions on global warming and the destruction of rainforests; and a motley assortment of other corporate liars, eco-wannbes and a few suffering from deranged imaginations.

Just as we are learning to cope with eco-porn (any ad involving both wildlife and an oil company is to be hooted and jeered immediately), suddenly they unleash a flood of pharma-porn on us. (I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know the new politically trendy way to refer to the big drug companies is "pharmas." I've been calling them big drug companies -- but the advantage of being in Texas is no one ever expects you to be up on this stuff.)

As a cancer survivor, I am particularly susceptible to the wonderful ad in which a woman recovering from breast cancer tries to express her gratitude to the drug companies that saved her life. I know she feels the same gratitude to the doctors, the nurses, the orderlies, the health-insurance company, her best friend, her mother-in-law and many more. I know the gratitude caused by surviving cancer. I just didn't expect to see it exploited by Big Pharmas to counter all the rotten publicity they've been getting for their greedy, blood-sucking, murderous behavior all over the globe.

John LeCarre, the British master of the spy novel, based his latest work on the pharmas' role in Africa and recently wrote in The Nation: "Big Pharma in the United States has persuaded the State Department to threaten poor countries' governments with trade sanctions in order to prevent them from making their own cheap forms of the patented, life-saving drugs that could ease the agony of 35 million men, women and children in the Third World who are HIV positive. In pharma jargon, these patent-free, copycat drugs are called generic. Big Pharma likes to trash them, insisting they are unsafe and carelessly administered. Practice shows that they are neither. They simply save the same lives that Big Pharma could save, but at a fraction of the cost."

We all know the drug companies' famous excuse that they have to make huge profits on a drug in order to finance research and development of more. There's quite a bit of pharma-porn on this very subject. LeCarre responds, "Then kindly tell me, please, how come they spend twice as much on marketing as they do on research and development?"

Because it pays, of course. Spending on drugs in this country is up by a whopping 19 percent, so far out of line with the rest of the cost increases in the economy as to be obscene. Furthermore, a new study by the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation says the $20.8 billion in increased spending "was attributable, in large measure, to the rising volume of prescriptions for top-selling drugs."

In other words, people are asking for the heavily advertised patent drugs like Celebrex, Lipitor and Vioxx by name. Anyone want to make a small bet? Unless we continue to clean up campaign financing, the Pharmas will give so much to Congress for campaigns, the pharmas will no longer have to list the unpleasant side effects of the "wonder" drugs they advertise so heavily on television. Pharma-porn will achieve a whole new level without those hilarious warnings, "Can also cause bloody stool, stroke and unsightly hair loss."

Big Pharma's record on AIDS in Africa is so appalling, it's finally dropped its own lawsuit in April against South Africa to prevent the country from using generics to treat the disease. The lawsuit was a public relations disaster, necessitating more pharma-porn here lest anyone get the idea the pharmas are greedy beyond human comprehension and perfectly willing let millions of Africans die.

Here's one of their many tricks. In 1984, Congress passed the Drug Price Competition Act, intended to promote competition between brand and generic companies and to promote the generics. In July 2000, The New York Times chronicled how well it was working: In 1998, Zenith Goldline Pharmaceuticals sued Abbott Labs over whether Zenith could sell a generic version of Hytrin, Abbott's $500 million a year drug for high blood pressure.

According to Zenith's lawyer, "Abbott makes a million dollars a day for every day it keeps us off the market." After opening arguments in the case, the lawyers all strolled off to lunch at the Hay-Adams in Washington and the case was there settled. The Times writes: "Abbott agreed to pay Zenith as much as $2 million a month not to produce its generic, up to a maximum of $42 million. The next day, Abbott agreed to pay another rival, Geneva Pharmaceuticals, even more: $4.5 million a month up to $101 million over the life of the contract." A shrewd business decision. Also illegal.

In addition, Abbott's drug Hytrin was basically a knock-off of another drug, called a "me-too drug." The pharmas claim they spend an average of $500 million for research on each new drug (you should see how they figure this), but the Times says the Boston Consulting group, which advises the industry, reports 42 of the 100 top-selling medicines are me-too drugs.

Think how instructive it would be if NBC ever put a story like that on "The Fleecing of America."

© Creators Syndicate

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor May 11, 2001 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.