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Smith: The pharma-killers

Inexpensive, generic AIDS drugs no longer an option for many because of corporate greed

Deepti, a 4-month-old baby girl who is reportedly HIV positive, sleeps inside a cloth hammock at an orphanage in Chennai, India. She is one of more than 5 million Indians living with HIV/AIDS.

Deepti, a 4-month-old baby girl who is reportedly HIV positive, sleeps inside a cloth hammock at an orphanage in Chennai, India. She is one of more than 5 million Indians living with HIV/AIDS.

The giants of pharmaceutical drugs in the United States of America are committing mass murder, selective genocide, remote-control homicide on a monstrous scale.

But what the hell, the remote-control part puts it so far offshore it’s clear on the far side of the planet, on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, near where mobs of millions swim in the Ganges, whose waters you wouldn’t put in your own toilet.

And given the role of overpopulation in the myriad aspects of global epidemiology, one might make a case for casting a blind eye toward forcing the Third World’s sick and dying to shuffle off this mortal coil to make room for the sacred cows that share their living quarters and occupy an upper floor in the high-rise house of caste and higher holiness.

If I sound like a cynic with despicable disregard of human suffering, allow me a little slack. I’m a drug-addled addict. Not just any drug either, morphia, the storied syrup of the Amapola, pretty little poppy of your parents’ favorite song and your bad uncle’s opium, mother of morphine, father of heroin, source of every painkiller worth a damn and every needle in the arm that led to death . . .

. . . until cocaine came along, and then pharmaceutical designer drugs.

So you might have as much reason to mistrust my word as the propaganda of the pharma-giants, except that I have a legit reason to be hooked on opiates, and the pharmas are in it strictly for the green. The two sides are inextricably bound.

I had a motorcycle wreck and wound up crippled in my southern hemisphere and busted up in the north. I take enough OxyContin every day to knock a rhinoceros sideways. If I didn’t have the drug – an opium derivative – I couldn’t live with the pain. Fact.

When I graduated from straight morphine to OxyContin, my monthly cost for the scrip was upwards of $1,800. Just that one drug. OxyContin is the brand-name for Oxycodone ER, a generic opioid with an extended release coating that makes it dissolve over roughly 12 hours. A lot of cheap aspirin tablets come with the same coatings.

Plain Oxycodone costs $2.15 a month. That is not a typo: $2.15 for Oxycodone, $1,800-plus for the coating.

Hold that thought.

Half a planet away from here, Dr. Yusuf Hamied runs a pharmaceutical company called Cipla, one of the most financially – and one must add spiritually – successful operations in India. The doctor’s father started Cipla in 1935, was pals with Gandhi, and passed it all along to Yusuf, who didn’t miss a trick.

Under Yusuf Hamied, Cipla developed a generic “cocktail” of AIDS drugs, an anti-retroviral, that reduced the costs of treatment by more than 97 percent. A godsend for India’s sick and poor.

Cipla was able to sell its AIDS anti-retroviral for 3 percent of what U.S. and European sources were selling the same drugs for, in India and 170 other countries – including ours – and still make Dr. Hamied healthy, wealthy and wise.

Which makes you wonder why U.S. and European pharma-monsters still spend lavish sums of m-u-n-n-y lobbying elected officials to guarantee them patent protection, price protection, so-called “intellectual property” protection.

And why government goes along with this conspiracy.

And still does. India joined the World Trade Organization in 2005 and, as a condition of membership, agreed to change its laws regarding generic drugs.

Now Dr. Hamied’s company can no longer copy expensive patent drugs and sell them for pennies to the poor. Which means, literally, that India’s AIDS patients, 90-something percent of them, will die. Because they can’t come within cannon shot of affording the cost of prescriptions.

Same as Africa’s patients.

Same as Mexico’s.

South America’s.

Our own, many of them.

The pharma-killers could sell their anti-retrovirals somewhere near Dr. Hamied’s prices and still make big profits, but not the way they do today.

Today pharmaceuticals stand second only to petroleum in the Fortune 500 rankings of corporate profitability. They stand there on the bodies of millions worldwide who have died of AIDS for want of the price of the only medicine that can save them.

Bought any pharmaceuticals lately?

Jeff bought his own insurance policy before he sailed off Broke-bike Mountain. It was a stroke of luck, not of brilliance. Reach him at 520-455-5667 or jeffyboy@wildblue.net


• South Africa 5,300,000

• India 5,100,000

• Nigeria 3,600,000

• Zimbabwe 1,800,000

• Tanzania 1,600,000

• Ethiopia 1,500,000

• Mozambique 1,300,000

• Kenya 1,200,000

• Congo 1,100,000

• U.S. 950,000

Source: CIA World Factbook

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