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Branding, Profits and Experimentation

Big Pharma and the Pill

by PETER ROST, MD

The world changed when "The Pill" arrived. Everyone talked about this event, and some people feared what this liberator would do to humanity. The amazing part is how those two innocuous words came to represent a human revolution.

Of course you know what I’m talking about; the birth control pill. Few products have been so debated and had such an impact on how we view ourselves. And the fact that these two non-descript words are understood by everyone demonstrates how truly revolutionary "The Pill" was.

But also a bit sad; I mean, you don’t think about a pill that cures cancer when I write "The Pill." You don’t associate this with a vaccine that eradicates dangerous diseases. No, in fact, you don’t associate this word with any drug that cures any disease.

So if nothing else, this shows what branding can do. And so, "The Pill," has come to represent our sexual drive and the freedom to exercise that drive. Which initially made some uncomfortable and still do.

But like anything related to women, "The Pill," hardly stands for equality. After all, women need to take the pill, which completely alters the hormonal balance in their bodies, and can lead to a range of side effects. Here are the warnings for one of the most common birth control pills:

The use of oral contraceptives is associated with increased risks of several serious conditions including myocardial infarction, thromboembolism, stroke, hepatic neoplasia, and gallbladder disease, although the risk of serious morbidity or mortality is very small in healthy women without underlying risk factors. The risk of morbidity and mortality increases significantly in the presence of other underlying risk factors such as hypertension, hyperlipidemias, obesity and diabetes.

Just sit back for a moment and think . . . do you think any man would risk any of this? And do you think he would feel comfortable having his sperms destroyed by a pill?

I don’t think so.

Then again, he isn’t the one who gets pregnant and has to live with the consequences of a mistake.

But the inequality doesn’t end there.

In fact, we stick it to women more ways than one. Most of us know by now that drugs are on average twice as expensive in the U.S. as in Canada or Europe. But as far as "The Pill" goes, American women often have to pay ten times as much as European women. For the same pill.

But it doesn’t stop with The Pill. When women are too old to have any use for "The Pill," we have something else ready for them: HRT or hormone replacement therapy. Loaded with estrogen, to make the transition into menopause easier, and keep the skin smooth. With very few side-effects.

Only that turned out to be, well, not entirely true. Estrogen is still recommended for women with severe menopausal symptoms, however, when the National Institute of Health was forced to stop the Women’s Health Initiative study prematurely, it taught us that what we think we know may not always be true. In fact, the results indicated that hormone replacement therapy appeared to increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer as well as heart disease, blood clots and stroke.

And of course, we also stick it to our menopausal American women. Again. HRT therapy is often ten times as expensive in the U.S. as in other countries.

American women; we want them to handle contraception with pills that may cause severe harm, we charge them ten times as much for this pleasure as we charge in other countries, and we make abortion more and more difficult to come by. And as the coupe de grace, we then convinced them to use HRT, to stay pretty and feel good, when, in fact, this was just hyperbole and may have led to an increase in heart attacks.

I’m only surprised that female coffins don’t cost more than male coffins.

Peter Rost, M.D., is a former Vice President of Pfizer. He became well known in 2004 when he emerged as the first drug company executive to speak out in favor of reimportation of drugs. He is the author of "The Whistleblower, Confessions of a Healthcare Hitman." See: http://the-whistleblower-by-peter-rost.blogspot.com/