No, Don’t Ask Your Doctor About Abflubimadab

You’ve Seen the Drug Ads … Everywhere

Do you know why prescription drugs cost so much? No, forget about development costs. Just turn on your television and look at all the glossy commercials requesting that you ask your doctor about their pricey pharmaceuticals. You’ll see a whole lot of healthy looking older couples doing fun things together while a voice in the background warns that if you take Abflubimabad (I invented this drug name, so don’t try to buy it or even ask your doctor about it), you may suffer from St. Vitus Dance, rickets, premature ejaculation, memory loss, Ebola, a moist handshake, heart failure, or death. But you’re not listening to this voice droning on, and those old couples look so happy.

Wait until you find out how much Abflubimabad costs: Just finding out may cause St. Vitus Dance, rickets, premature ejaculation, memory loss, Ebola, a moist handshake, heart failure, or death. It costs a whole lot of cash to place ads on prime time TV, especially the cable channels that old people like to watch for their retro programming.

For one thing, the U.S. is only one of two countries that allow this type of advertising. (The other is New Zealand.) Could this be why American drugs are so much more expensive than Canadian or Mexican equivalents?

Whereas the market for TV advertising in general has been flat for the last few years, the direct-to-consumer drug ads have grown 62% since 2012. The pharmaceutical industry is one of those industries where marketers could call a meeting at the beginning of year and pretty much decide what their profit is going to be. (The insurance industry is in the same category.) So it doesn’t matter what these drugs cost. They want to create a buzz, so that viewers will directly participate in their doctors’ decisions, which, of course, they are clearly not qualified to do. Then Big Pharma just raises the prices by astronomical amounts.

Guess who pays for it in the end.

 

A Rare Beauty

Whitney Houston

The 1980s were a strange decade for me. Befoe I met Martine, I was in love with two gorgeous black women—though I was firmly ensconced in the “friend zone” with both of them. There was Melinda, with whom I worked, and Janice, a young physician. And my favorite singer was the lovely Whitney Houston, whose 1985 album, “Whitney Houston” contained some of the most beautiful singing I had ever heard. That plus the fact that she looked like an angel come down to earth made her my favorite listening choice, to the annoyance of some of my friends. The first tape I bought for my new 1985 Mitsubishi Montero was her first album.

Today I saw Kevin Macdonald’s documentary entitled Whitney. The singer’s life was neatly divided into two parts: the spectacular rise and the equally spectacular fall. As beautiful and talented as she was, Whitney was sexually abused as a child—by one of her female relatives—and then she fell in love with and married a debauched ogre, alias singer/dancer Bobby Brown, who help turn her hopes and dreams into mud.

When I look back at the early eighties, I think of the twin scourges of AIDS and cocaine. Cocaine was everywhere. If one was a celebrity, one had no problem getting as much nose powder as one wanted. It is pathetic to see Whitney toward the end of her life, aware that somewhere she had taken a wrong turning, but still faithful to many of the people who were living off her fame and intent on killing the goose that laid their golden eggs.

Serendipity: Getting High on … Bananas?

How I Learned About Bananadine aka Mellow Yellow

It was the March 24, 1967 issue of the Los Angeles Free Press that taught me all about how to get high on bananas. You can see the cover of the issue in question illustrated above. Did I run to the nearest supermarket and buy up all the bananas in sight? No, I didn’t. It was just six months after my brain surgery to remove a chromophobe adenoma from the center of my head; and I was not about to go experimenting with psychedelic drugs. I was just finishing my first quarter as a graduate student at UCLA’s Film School. Although I loved the Free Press and looked for it religiously each week, I was both impressed and somewhat repelled by the whole hippie phenomenon.

What is this about getting high on bananas? Just read this excerpt from Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, which reminded me of this news story that happened some half century ago:

Bigfoot had been driving around once a week to Kozmik Banana, a frozen-banana shop near the Gordita Beach pier, creeping in by way of the alley in back. It was a classic shakedown. Kevin the owner, instead of throwing away the banana peels, was cashing in on a hippie belief of the moment by converting them to a smoking product he called Yellow Haze. Specially trained crews of speed freaks, kept out of sight nearby in a deserted resort hotel about to be demolished, worked three shifts carefully scraping off the insides of the banana peels and obtaining, after oven-drying and pulverizing it, a powdery black substance they wrapped in plastic bags to sell to the deluded and desperate. Some who smoked it reported psychedelic journeys to other places and times. Others came down with horrible nose, throat, and lung symptoms that lasted for weeks. The belief in psychedelic bananas went on, however, gleefully promoted by underground papers which ran learned articles comparing diagrams of banana molecules to those of LSD and including alleged excerpts from Indonesian professional journals about native cults of the banana and so forth, and Kevin was raking in thousands.  Bigfoot saw no reason why law enforcement shouldn’t b cut in for a share of the proceeds.

So, as you see, however much I dearly loved the Freep, the whole thing was an early instance of fake news on the (far) left.

The Free Press Called it “Bananadine”

I remember that the Free Press even had a bookstore on Fairfax, specializing in subversive titles, but with enough interesting general literature available to whet my appetite. A big plus is that it was right across the street from Canter’s Deli, which was open all hours, making it a popular nosh stop for film addicts discussing the pictures they had just seen. Martine and I still go there from time to time for their corned beef, pastrami, and other delights.

Yes, It Does Make Sense …

Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals

Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals

There used to be a comic strip appearing in the sunday paper called “Hatlo’s Inferno” drawn by Jimmy Hatlo whose intent was to show annoying people in hell who are being pointed out to those touring Hades, presumably in air-conditioned buses. (See illustration below.)

Well, I would like to add a whole circle to the inferno for a young ex-hedge fund manager who purchased a drug company called Turing Pharmaceuticals which manufactured Daraprim, which is used to treat life-threatening parasitic infections in pregnant women and immuno-compromised individuals such as AIDS patients. Mr. Martin Shkresli—may his name go down in infamy—promptly raised the price of Dataprim from $13.50 per dose to $750.00 per dose.

Hatlo’s Inferno Cartoon

“Hatlo’s Inferno” Cartoon

Then he had the cojones to claim that the 5,500% increase wasn’t too much, considering. “It really doesn’t make any sense to get any criticism for this,” Shkreli claims.

Nonetheless, the criticism is coming in fast and furious, to the extent that Mr. Shkreli probably regrets his insatiable greed.

“Terribly-Sad-Life Syndrome”

Feeling Blue? Commit Suicide with the Help of Big Pharma!

Feeling Blue? Commit Suicide with the Help of Big Pharma!

Back when I was a teenager in Cleveland, we used to have a neighbor named Elizabeth (though in Hungarian, it was pronounced Bözsi) who was separated from her husband and whose life was a sea of troubles. Her back yard abutted ours, and there was no fence to keep her out. (More’s the pity!) Whenever I saw her mournfully trudging across our lawn to visit Mother, I would groan and immediately resolve to take a nice long hot bath until she was finished spilling all her troubles, most of which—in my opinion—were self-inflicted. But Bözsi was one of Mom’s “dear-hearts,” and thus beyond criticism. She probably thought I had a cleanliness fetish. The way I see it, she made me feel dirty.

Now one such “dear-heart” named Lina has fastened herself onto Martine. She tried bringing me into her circle of sympathetic listeners, but I would just disappear. The first time she saw me, she thought to enlist my aid in finding her a good workman’s compensation attorney. Ever since I threw her out of my apartment last year for overstaying her welcome, she rightfully thinks I don’t like her. Her problems are, of course, legion; and she is, of course, an innocent victim of circumstances.

In the May 5, 2014 issue of The New Yorker, there is an excellent investigative article by Rachel Aviv entitled “Prescription for Disaster: The Heartland’s Pain-Pills Problem.”

In certain parts of the country, people like Bözsi and Lina go to sympathetic doctors who prescribe pain pills such as OxyContin, Actiq, Duragesic Patches, and a whole array of habit-forming medications that numb the taker to life, and possibly drain that life away in the long run. Rachel Aviv’s story tells of one osteopathic physician named Stephen Schneider who opened a medical clinic in a suburb of Wichita. Because the good doctor was upbeat, sympatico, and not at all reluctant to prescribe what the patient wanted, before long many of them started to die of heart failure and other causes.

Agents from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration led Schneider into one of the clinic‘s fourteen exam rooms and asked him why he had been prescribing so many opioid painkillers. He responded that sixty percent of his patients suffered from chronic pain, and few other physicians in the area would treat them. The agents wrote, “He tries to believe his patients when they describe their health problems and he will believe them until they prove themselves wrong.” When asked how many of his patients had died, Schneider said that he didn’t know.

How does one draw the boundary line in cases such as these? One psychiatrist refers to this complex of possibly physical/possibly psychological pain as the “terribly-sad-life syndrome.” Many of these patients are at a dead end and feel that life has dealt them a bad hand. They are hurting and want to be numbed. And, since it is less embarrassing to admit to physical pain when, in fact, it is primarily psychological, they are actually putting themselves in harm’s way. In effect, they are dopers and the nice doctor is a dealer.

If I were a saint, I would be more sympathetic to these people. Instead, I feel somewhat repelled by them. My Mom didn’t, but then she was something of a saint. I guess, if I am to be a saint, I would choose a different class of people to help.

 

 

“Fun With Substance”

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace

At first, you have:

“fun with substance, then very gradually less fun, then significantly less fun because of like blackouts you suddenly come out of on the highway going 145 kph with companions you do not know, nights you awake from in unfamiliar bedding next to somebody who doesn’t even resemble any known sort of mammal, three-day blackouts you come out of and have to buy a newspaper to even know what town you’re in; yes, gradually less and less actual fun but with some physical need for the Substance, now, instead of the former voluntary fun; then at some point suddenly just very little fun at all, combined with terrible daily hand-trembling need, then dread, anxiety, irrational phobias, dim siren-like memories of fun, trouble with assorted authorities, knee-buckling headaches, mild seizures, and the litany of what Boston AA calls Losses … then more Losses, with the Substance seeming like the only consolation against the pain of mounting Losses, and of course you’re in Denial about it being the Substance that’s causing the very Losses it’s consoling you about—”—David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest