At my university, it is time for the annual open enrollment in health insurance. Every year I am astonished by the rates for prescription drug coverage. For family coverage, an employee’s cost is $79 a month, and the State of Maryland subsidizes the plan to the tune of $316 a month for a total cost of almost $400 a month. $400 a month! Just what are Americans popping?
Consider Lovaza. Lovaza is GlaxoSmithKline’s prescription fish oil, specially modified to provide high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids. The cost for one year on Lovaza is an astonishing $3360. By the way, Lovaza—which is being marketed to reduce triglyceride levels—contains unhealthy, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils as a carrier base for the fish oils.
It is true, however, that the modern, Western diet generally lacks essential omega-3 fatty acids, particularly in relationship to an excess of omega-6 fatty acids. Among other things, omega-3 fatty acids are essential for a healthy heart. But, simple modifications can easily restore omega-3 to your diet. There is no need for a pill. Wild salmon is omega-3 rich, as are vegetarian sources such as flax, walnuts, tofu, and leafy greens. (One caution: There are contradictory studies indicating that there may be an increased risk of prostate cancer with consumption of flax seed oil, but not flax seed meal.)
Modifying ones diet to increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acids costs but a tiny fraction of the $3360 a year price tag of Lovaza. Clearly, prescription drug insurance causes huge distortions in behavior. How many patients who do not have insurance for prescription drugs would consider buying Lovaza?
The marketing tactics of the drug companies, aided and abetted by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), are truly unconscionable. We are told by GlaxoSmithKline that Lovaza “is approved by the FDA to reduce very high triglycerides” and that “unlike Lovaza, dietary supplements are not approved to treat any disease.”
This is misleading, since food and dietary supplements are not tested by the FDA concerning their power to prevent or cure disease. Recently the FDA made national headlines when they warned General Mills about their claim that Cheerios (an oats based cereal) is a means to help reduce cholesterol:
Based on claims made on your product’s label, we have determined that your Cheerios… is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug because the product is intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease…[Cheerios] may not be legally marketed with the above claims in the United States without an approved new drug application.
What does the FDA announcement about Cheerios instill in the public? Perhaps the FDA announcement induces fear that only prescription drugs can maintain our health? Who benefits when such fears are promoted? How can a society of people expect to remain prosperous and free when collectively they are ignorant of how to maintain and restore health? How can any society afford drugs as wasteful as Lovaza?
I was able to find that sales of Lovaza were $102.8 million in January and February of 2008. Imputing from that, Lovaza sales were well over a half billion dollars for the year 2008.
On a pharmaceutical drug rep forum, Cafepharma, I found this post from a patient:
HEY DRUG DUDES, i’m a guy on disability. i take a shit load of drugs trying to beat cholsteral [sic] and trygiserides [sic]. cost is killin me. nothin cheap out there??? goin to canada for some . newest for me is lovasa. got any ideas where to shop for best price???? any help appreciated!!!
My advice to this patient: It is time to get some new advisors. First, your advice to yourself is very bad; resign as your own advisor. Next, fire your doctor. If the doctor you have is prescribing Lovasa, how much does he or she know about restoring and maintaining health? Instead of squandering your money on Lovasa, spend a small fraction of that on some natural foods cookbooks and change what you eat.
There is little doubt in my mind that the bubble in pill-popping will end as abruptly as did the bubbles in housing and in stock prices. For now, the pharmaceutical bubble is being sustained by market distortions caused by government privilege and government regulation. This bubble is destroying our health, teaching Americans to eschew responsibility, and helping to bankrupt our nation.