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Defending big pharma

To the Editor:

John le Carr's analysis of the drug industry ("A Dose of Reality," April 26) ignores basic economic realities and the beneficial notion of the profit motive. Any business that ignores the astronomical costs associated with researching and bringing its product to market would quickly fail. The freedom of American drug companies to make large profits is the primary reason why they and American biotech firms are more numerous, innovative, and produce a disproportionate share (over 50 percent) of the world's leading pharmaceuticals.

The drug industry did not cause the AIDs crisis in Africa nor does it have the solution -- the last time I checked, there was no existing cure for HIV or AIDS. To villify pharmaceutical companies with respect to world health tragedies invites dangerous, heavy-handed regulation upon an industry that already must spend over 12 years and more than $300 million (largely due to FDA rules) to bring a single drug to market. Large profits are necessary to sustain intensive research in an industry in which less than 1/3 of drugs actually make money.

High risks necessitate high rewards. American pharmaceuticals would simply not undertake risky innovation and research if no profit incentive existed. That's not corporate greed, Mr. le Carr; it's a basic tenet of economics and the reason why many lifesaving drugs exist at all today.

-- Michael Waldron
Colorado Springs

Boo, hiss to big pharma

To the Editor:

John le Carr's article increased my sense of dread over the insidious power drug companies hold. That they could grow more powerful under the current administration, choking medicine's humane and selfless purpose, darkens the already bleak caul of the future.

In a recent editorial on National Public Radio, a commentator defended drug companies' profits as relatively modest compared to other billionaire entities on Fortune 500's list of top money makers. The difference between drug production costs and retail value is huge, he acknowledged, but that's the way our economy works. He went so far as to compare consumers of Coca-Cola with consumers of prescription drugs, declaring Coke drinkers, unlike the afflicted, never complain about price gouging. Conveniently, this analogy overlooks the different motives driving demand for these products: leisure in one case, sickness and death in the other.

However, the drug companies would not equate themselves with Coca-Cola. They apparently argue that, yes, they are different from other corporations, with research and development departments that rely on huge profits to improve and create new drugs (which Le Carr wonders at, considering twice as much is spent on marketing). If medicine sets them apart, then so should a humanitarian mission that would allow for a compassionate distribution of funds. Of course, the industry will never freely embrace such a mindset, at least not in this country.

Le Carr praises the general press for revealing Big Pharma's underbelly, and it's thanks to the Independent, The Nation, the Washington Post, the New York Times Magazine, etc. that we are aware of exactly how drug companies' money and power undermine democracy. Turning them around to serve rather than exploit those in need will require not only democratic balance, but, as with all positive change, good will, compassion and determination.

-- Sarah Jackson
Colorado Springs

What's in the water?

To the Editor:

I wish to make some comments in support of the letter written by Ms. Lisa McLaughlin in the April 26 issue of the Independent regarding the proposed water fluoridation project for two-thirds of Colorado Springs.

It is very important for the public to realize that the 90-day tabling of the water fluoridation project has nothing to do with the pros and cons of ingesting more fluoride, or whether such ingestion results in fewer cavities in the teeth. The issue is solely the exposure to extra toxins that are always present in the fluoridating agent proposed for use by the Colorado Springs Utilities Department.

The fluoridating agent that the Colorado Springs Utilities department wants to use is not a refined, pharmaceutical-grade fluoride, but an unrefined waste byproduct generated by the fertilizer industry. The primary component of this industrial waste is a chemical known as hydrofluosilicic acid. However, other contaminating components routinely found in this waste byproduct include a trio of highly toxic heavy metals: lead, arsenic and mercury.

A scientifically sound, peer-reviewed article in a distinguished medical journal has reported some information that should concern everyone. It has now been clearly established that many children drinking tap water fluoridated with hydrofluosilicic acid have elevated blood lead levels [Masters, et al. (2000) "Association of silicofluoride treated water with elevated blood lead." NeuroToxicology 21(6):1091-1100.]. The authors of this article noted "a consistently significant association" with tap water treated in this fashion and elevated levels of lead in the blood, and noted that many of the children tested had blood lead levels above scientifically established "danger" levels. Blood lead levels beyond this "danger" level have been noted to develop "deficits in intellectual function, shortening of attention span, and increased risk of asocial behavior," according to a pediatric textbook that is a primary resource for pediatricians in this country.

Lead, arsenic and mercury are toxic heavy metals that accumulate in the body. Generally, any exposure, however small, will accumulate and become progressively toxic over the weeks, months and years of ingestion. The human immune system can only take so much total toxin exposure before serious diseases finally manifest.

The utilities department also seems to find comfort in the fact that 90 percent of the communities in the United States that are fluoridated use hydrofluosilicic acid. The fact that so many more Americans are being exposed to these avoidable heavy metal contaminants is alarming, not reassuring. Already, a number of previously fluoridated communities in America have discontinued their fluoridation.

City Council members were very concerned when they learned this new information on the toxic byproducts of hydrofluosilicic acid. Even though the council was initially very much in favor of water fluoridation for improved dental health in the community, they realized that the delivery of that fluoride simply cannot result in long-term exposure to heavy metals and untested silico-fluoride byproducts as well.

There are no chronic toxicological studies establishing the long-term safety of the use of hydrofluosilicic acid as an agent for water fluoridation. Furthermore, no scientific data exists to refute the fact that many children drinking water fluoridated with this agent are acquiring significantly elevated blood lead levels. Unless very sound scientific studies can be offered to reassure the City Council and the citizens of Colorado Springs that hydrofluosilicic acid from the fertilizer industry is a 100 percent safe substance for continued, long-term ingestion, the City Council should indefinitely table the silico-fluoridation proposal.

-- Thomas E. Levy, M.D., J.D.
Colorado Springs

That's our public radio

To the Editor:

Thank you to Ms. Sherwood for her E-town article (I on the Arts, May 3). May I suggest that, in addition to contacting the station manager by phone or e-mail, interested individuals make contact with a monetary pledge to KRCC. Add to your pledge that you would like to listen to E-Town. Also, thank you to Mr. Forster for E-Town and Mr. Valdez for KRCC.

-- Robert Sounart
Cañon City

Bad policy makes bad neighbors

To the Editor:

Former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey's search for atonement after admitting that he massacred Vietnamese civilians holds a simple lesson for today's policymakers: Such acts are begotten from desperate situations, and desperate situations are born of ill-conceived policies.

Bob Kerrey was no bloodthirsty Rambo. He was a morally upright young man from America's heartland who committed an unthinkable atrocity because his leaders placed him in a guerilla war that could not be won unless fought on the Vietcong's own brutal terms.

Like a Cassandra's phonograph, this tragic cycle gets played over and over again by those who should know better. Our dismemberment of Yugoslavia guaranteed that thousands of young Serbians, Croatians, Bosnian Muslims and Albanians would relive Kerrey's man-made nightmare. When Henry Kissinger acquiesced to Turkey's invasion of Cyprus in 1974, he condemned a generation of young Turks to Kerrey's private hell.

Yialtsin Kiouchouk, then a young officer in the Turkish army, wept when he described the murder he witnessed of a mentally handicapped Greek woman, who had the bullets of a gun emptied into her vagina. Then there is Sergeant Nejarti, who is tortured by the image etched in his mind of the double rape of a mother and her child.

For us to meet the Vietnams and Cypruses to come, our policymakers must listen to the simple truths that echo from an American son's pleas for redemption. As Kerrey related during a recent interview on national television, in the end what is left is dead women and children.

-- P. D. Spyropoulos, Esq.
Executive Director, American Hellenic Media Project, New York

Protect petition rights

Citizens of Colorado Springs, the Colorado legislature is up to its old tricks again. This year there have been four attempts to restrict our petition rights. You can thank Colorado Springs Senator Ron May for helping to shoot down the House's proposal (HCR01-1001) to make it more difficult to petition for constitutional amendments.

But when will it end? The House Agricultural Committee just passed another resolution proposing a referendum (HCR01-1004) to increase the percentage of the vote required to pass a constitutional amendment. Gee, didn't the people of Colorado vote that down by over 50 percent in 1996?

If you value your petition rights, give your state representative and your state senator a call -- tell them you are countng on them to protect your petition rights. Most of the time our elected representatives serve the people of Colorado well. However, when it comes to the people's right to petition, their record is spotty at best.

-- Anne Campbell

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