Media reports regularly attack high drug prices, both for life-saving specialty drugs and for widely used treatments such as asthma inhalers. And recent disclosures raise questions about too-close ties between pharma companies and Food and Drug Administration officials.
The well-known industry response to these and other charges is that prescription drugs account for only 10 percent of US spending on healthcare and that appropriate drug use saves money by keeping people out of hospitals and operating rooms. Developing new drugs, moreover, is enormously expensive and risky, warranting strong patent protection and a healthy return on investment.Such arguments, sadly, fail to generate public confidence in the biomedical research enterprise. Public surveys give pharma companies poor ratings, citing high prices, low integrity, and failure to disclose unfavorable safety information. There's a clamor for valid data on drug effectiveness and comparative prices, and high hopes that health reform initiatives will make such information more transparent.