Doing the Charleston

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  • 05/17/2006

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin has decided not to formally respond to a recent column in the Charleston Gazette by Dr. Alan Sager of Boston University critical of the state’s efforts to implement a 2004 state law intended to curb soaring prescription drug costs.

In the April 27 column, Sager complained that the provisions of the act are being implemented “much too slowly.”

Comment from the Governor’s office …

“We think they’re moving in the right direction,” said Lara Ramsburg, the Governor’s communications director. “We’re not going to spend of lot of time worrying about responses.”

Well I did respond and here’s my letter (which appeared in the May 14 edition of the Gazette)

Drug comparison useless and wrong
May 14, 2006


In his commentary in the April 27 Charleston Gazette, Dr. Alan Sager makes the obscene argument that since the street price of heroin and cocaine has decreased four-fifths between 1981 and 2000, so too should the costs of prescription pharmaceuticals.

His comparison couldn’t be more useless — or more wrong. He points out that in 1981 the “average retail price per pharmaceutical” was $9.50 and that in 2000 the average rose to $40.11. But this is a useless statistic because, one, it begs the question, what’s an average pharmaceutical?; and, two, it supposes that we’re dealing with the same basket of similar products.

In 1981 there were far fewer effective medications for almost every disease (most notably hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes) and biologic therapies for cancer, multiple sclerosis, etc., were more science fiction than science. We’ve come a long way from bench to bedside in those years, and millions of Americans are leading healthier, more productive lives because of these advances.

In 1981, my parents gave me an electric typewriter for my birthday. It cost $125. Using Sager’s logic, I could make the argument that in 1981 a “word processor” cost $125 and in 2000 it cost $2,500. But would anyone accept that a typewriter and a laptop computer are comparable? I think not.

Peter J. Pitts


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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