Recently, The Seattle Times ran a five-day series that I believe failed to explain how the appropriate and timely use of prescription medicines...
Recently, The Seattle Times ran a five-day series that I believe failed to explain how the appropriate and timely use of prescription medicines and other new medical interventions improves the health of patients and, ultimately, saves lives. (“Suddenly Sick,” page one, June 26-30.)
Lacking was the perspective of physicians, pharmaceutical industry researchers and other health experts who work tirelessly to see that medications are available to treat patients before conditions worsen and become more medically complex and damaging — both in economic and health terms.
Does early treatment of elevated or high blood pressure make sense? I think most doctors would agree, yes. Seeking treatment before it can ravage the heart, brain, veins, kidneys and other vital organs needed to live a healthy life makes common sense.
Should prescription drugs always be the first line of defense or the only treatment option available? No.
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Surprised by that response? You shouldn’t be. America’s pharmaceutical researchers know that treatment decisions should be made by physicians after a full discussion with their patients of the risks, benefits and treatment options available. These decisions are too important to be made by prescription-drug companies, the government or even newspapers. Doctors alone should have the enormous responsibility of prescribing life-saving and life-improving medicines.
What if you need a different, perhaps even stronger, medicine to lower your blood pressure because diet and exercise, diuretics and weight loss did not work for you? That’s the case for many Americans. No two patients are alike, and no medicine will work exactly the same in different people. That’s why treatment standards or guidelines are exactly that — guidelines. They are not meant to supplant the expertise and personal knowledge a physician has of his or her patient.
Let’s stay with the example of high blood pressure for a little longer. This disease afflicts 65 million Americans, so we all likely have a loved one, friend or neighbor fighting its effects every day. Just 40 years ago, before the development of safe and effective medicines for high blood pressure, too many patients were doomed to suffer the debilitating effects of the disease until their death from heart disease or stroke.
Since that time, the development of safer, more-effective prescription medicines — encouraged by greater scientific innovation — has markedly reduced the number of heart-disease deaths and turned what is frequently called a “silent killer” into a manageable, chronic disease.
Raising awareness of growing health challenges such as osteoporosis, deep vein thrombosis, obesity and, yes, even female sexual dysfunction, is the responsibility of all of those in the health community — everyone from physicians and patients, drug companies and academics, even journalists who regularly cover health care. These are not trivial conditions, especially for the patients dealing with them.
Questioning the legitimacy of these conditions and the drugs developed to fight them does not lessen the pain of the symptoms or eradicate the tragedy of the disease and it does not cure one single patient.
Revised standards of treatment and care can save lives and improve health. It may mean the difference of living only a few more months or adding years and years to your life. But that extra time is precious time with loved ones.
The food pyramid, long a standard of how diets should be modeled, was revised recently. The revisions came with much debate and tough questions. This debate is healthy and should be welcomed. It should also be fair.
If every decision, change or improvement made in health care and treatment recommendations is viewed solely through the framework of dollars and cents, will anyone see the health benefits that accompany those changes?
Disease is the enemy. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in fighting disease and optimistic about future cures looming on the horizon. Simply put, the dedicated men and women of America’s pharmaceutical research companies remain committed to saving lives. That’s our job. It’s what we do. It’s why we get up in the morning and go to work, despite the criticisms of those who question even advancements in medical treatment.
Billy Tauzin is the president and CEO of PhRMA, the trade association representing the country’s leading pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies. PhRMA members invested an estimated $38.8 billion in 2004 in discovering and developing new medicines.