Romney's Ill-Advised Solution to Acid Politics

Romney's Ill-Advised Solution to Acid Politics

Printer-friendly version
a a
Type Size: Small

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took his campaign to Cincinnati on Monday, which will be a crucial swing state in the fall election. A strong Republican turnout is crucial in the Queen City of the Midwest, which anchors the conservative southern half of the state.

Yet the Republican frontrunner gave a lackluster performance and barely got a rise out of a middling crowd, according to Dana Milbank in this morning’s Washington Post. Perhaps Romney was thinking about his own problems in today’s primary state, Michigan. Near the end his talk, he touted the benefits of a popular acid indigestion prescription medication.

“There’s “a product to help people with the symptoms, as you know, of indigestion or ulcers, and that product is provided by doctors to a lot of patients,” he said. It’s “a wonderful little product out there called Nexium.”

One can never be sure what prompts a presidential candidate to extol the virtues of one particular brand of drug over another, a task usually left to manufacturers’ doctors’ door-to- salesmen, called detailers in the trade. But in the crowded acid indigestion field, it’s particularly peculiar for anyone outside the drug industry to do it.

Here’s what Consumer Reports had to say in its article on the drug. It headlined the story “Overprescribed and overpriced: Just say ‘no’ to Nexium.”

Over the last 30 years, the pharmaceutical industry has brought out a never-ending array of products aimed at curbing acid indigestion, which is sometimes called acid reflux disease in the medical literature to give temporarily upset tummies a more scientific gloss. Most have gone generic, and can be had without a doctor’s prescription. Think Zantax or Prilosec, for instance, not to mention Maalox and Tums.

When such drugs lose their patent protection, the drug industry has proven remarkably resilient over the years in coming up with replacement products that do exactly the same thing – curb excess stomach acid. Their goal is to have another patented medicine that can be prescribed by doctors and sold at five to six times the over-the-counter price.

That’s how AstraZeneca came up with Nexium. It took Prilosec (which it also manufactured), separated out the active ingredient from that mixture, patented the active half, and got another 20 years of exclusive marketing potential. How effective was this strategy? Nexium generated $6.3 billion in sales last year, according to IMS Health. The equivalent amount of Prilosec might have generated $ 1 billion in sales.

Dr. Jerome Avorn of Harvard Medical School has over the past half decade been working diligently with a team of doctors and nurses to counter-detail the misinformation spread by the drug industry about the special efficacy of its latest products when they are no better than what’s already on the market at much cheaper prices. "It's nearly impossible for any single doctor to keep on top of all the most important information about prescribing that comes out," he said in launching the project in the mid-2000s. "The problem with the information that pharmaceutical industry reps provide is that it is all designed to increase product sales.”

spent 25 years as a foreign correspondent, economics writer and investigative business reporter for the Chicago Tribune and other publications. He is the author of the 2004 book, The $800 Million Pill: The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs.