Dare We Trust the FDA?

By Gus Tyler

Published December 17, 2004, issue of December 17, 2004.

The Federal Drug Administration is now under fire. It has been accused of not doing a proper job in protecting the public against drugs that have been charged with bringing on dangerous side effects. One such medication is Vioxx.

The dangers of this drug were brought to the attention of the FDA some four years ago. It has been under investigation ever since. Such delay was not customary in the past. In 1992, it was alleged that a popular allergy pill had bad side effects. The FDA had its expert scientists test the pill, and the drug was withdrawn from the marketplace.

Why has it taken so long to make a decision on Vioxx?

The answer is that the FDA has been bought off. The pharmaceutical industry has been contributing millions to it. In fiscal year 2003, it contributed $200 million. But its contributions are limited for use to the testing of new drugs. The FDA has done very little, if anything, to test drugs already on the market.

There are some who strongly suspect that the growing intimacy between the pharmaceutical industry and the agency that was supposed to police it is not dissimilar from the one-time common relations between the policeman on the street, in which the man wearing the badge always was ready to extend an open palm in exchange for turning a blind eye to some violation of the law.

The New York Times summed up the situation in a headline reading, “At FDA, Strong Drug Ties and Less Monitoring.”

Among the first to be aware of this topsy-turvy relationship in which the allegedly controlling party ended up being controlled by the supposed controlled party was Tommy Thompson, the recently resigned Cabinet member who headed the Department of Health and Human Services. And he moved to do something about it: He proposed the creation of an independent agency that would review all decisions of the FDA — present, past and future. The White House would not allow him to do so.

This refusal came on top of the White House denying him the power to bargain with drug firms on the prices charged for medicines used in Medicare.

All of the above is not to be trivialized. We are dealing with the health of the American people. Tommy Thompson was doing what his Cabinet post called upon him to do. When Bush turned down the very proper proposals of his secretary of Health and Human Services, where was our president’s “compassion”?

A super-cynical acquaintance of mine who fancies himself to be wit has an explanation: He maintains that the president’s neglect of compassion in practice has caused the word to atrophy, starting with the first three letters (c-o-m). As a result of which “compassionate conservatism” has simply become “passionate conservatism.”



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