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Out of New Diseases and Blank Checks from Insurers, Pharma Targets Alcohol

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The gravy train of the 2000's is over for Pharma reports yesterday's Wall Street Journal. New drugs made the drug industry $11.8 billion in 2005 and only $4.3 billion last year- almost two-thirds less.

Why? There are several reasons, says the Journal. Doctors have a "growing fear of prescribing new drugs with unknown side effects," the government is continuing to crackdown on Pharma's illegal marketing, and private and government insurers are becoming less willing to "cough up money for an expensive new drug-particularly when a cheap and reliable generic is available." Could the change be retroactive, some wonder?

It's gotten so bad, AstraZeneca, whose controversial Seroquel still makes $5.3 billion a year, now conducts "payer excellence academies" to teach reps to sell insurers and state health care systems on its latest drugs (if there's any more government money to loot, that is, or if private premiums can go any higher.)

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Maybe that's why Pharma is now targeting the nation's millions of alcoholics and drugs addicts as its new revenue source. Like energetic kids who are really hyperactive and people with normal life problems who are really depressed, alcoholics and drug addicts, we are now told, really have a brain disease!

"Sixty percent of people with a substance abuse disorder also suffer from another form of mental illness, says an article in this week's New York Times' Science Times. (Another?) They are "wired differently" and may have a "developmental brain disorder," says the article, next to a photo of Amy Winehouse, lest anyone miss The Point. But luckily, scientists are cracking the code and beginning to "find answers," says Science Times.

Pharma is mongering the "dual diagnosis" of alcoholics and addicts-they have both an addiction and a psychiatric illne$$-with so much unbranded advertising and Madison Avenue spin, nationally known major rehab centers are telling their patients they have "co-occurring disorders," in a repudiation of basic substance abuse recovery theory.

Getting the millions in bars and on street corners on antidepressants and other psychoactive drugs for their putative lack of "dopamine receptors," would certainly help Pharma through its slump as it runs out of people it calls sick. But Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has bigger ideas: Let's give alcoholics and drug addicts vaccines, she said at last year's American Psychiatric Association's meeting in New Orleans. Rehabilitation professionals fell out of their seats.

Not only do we know the brains of alcoholics and addicts are different from normal people, say psychopharmacology buffs and brain researchers, not only do we know their addictions are progressive, with a little help (and more federal money) we can even identify who is At Risk. Just like we identify those with pre-asthma, pre-diabetes, pre-schizophrenia and pre-osteoporosis. Treat 'em early and often.

Let's use those gigantic government primate centers! Let's concoct more unnecessary vaccines. Let's help Pharma's decade of the biologic drug. Let's cement government/industry incest. Let's pimp the nation's alcoholics and addicts!

There's only one problem with Pharma's new buzz campaign and intended demographic. Alcoholics and addicts are neither mentally ill or suffering from a vaccine deficiency. They recover perfectly with the help of each other in self-help groups for free (a painful word for Pharma) and have done so for almost eighty years. More importantly, for alcoholics and addicts, drugs are the problem not the solution!

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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