Loratadine. And drug companies.

2009_11_11 dandelion
Well hello there, you miserable spawn of Satan.

Allergies the past week. I don’t have them as bad as I did when I was a kid, where fall-winter was a long string of endless runny noses and sneezing, but as an adult, I still go through “the mucous jags” at least a couple weeks every season. This time, it’s a dry, but sudden and violent sneezing, with a really bad, sort of itchy feeling on the skin of my face that’s worse than the sneezing and persistent runny nose. It’s as though my head suddenly decides that it just can’t stand my skin, and wants out. It’s kind of unpleasant.

These days, I pop a generic Claritin (Loratadine), wait about 24 hours for it to cycle, and can almost forget about allergies at all. Sure, my skin gets as dry as a desiccated corpse’s, and reality briefly has a plasticky edge, but at least fluids aren’t dribbling out of every hole in my face.

Keeping in line with my hipster jackass ethic, I don’t really trust drugs or drug companies, but slobber and grovel for any chemical that eases the terrible pain of existence. All the same, it’s good to know what goes in you.

Further in line with the aforesaid ethic, I went to Wikipedia to read about how the drug works, since it works so well. Here’s a fun little tidbit that I learned along the way:

“Loratadine was eventually approved by the FDA, and in 2001, its last year on patent, it accounted for 28% of Schering’s total sales. Although an FDA advisory panel ruled that Loratadine was safe enough to be sold over the counter, Schering opposed such a decision on the grounds that it would reduce the price that could be charged for the drug.[4]”

It’s important to note here that for years, I had to take non-scrip allergy medication, frequently enduring the side effects just so I wouldn’t have to deal with a plague of allergies every year. So here I learn that I could have taken Claritin for years before it became a simple over-the-counter affair. Thanks for making me wait so many years for a generic, you money grubbing bastards. Do you think they just do this with basic quality-of-life drugs?

You know what really grinds my gears?

Wait, it gets better. Listening to This American Life a few weeks ago, I listened about how drug companies will stretch the profits of medications with expired patents by combining them with other drugs, or slightly altering their chemistry so that they can patent them anew, and severely marking up the prices of the drugs. They pair this method with massive marketing campaigns directly to consumers and doctors, such that there is pressure on both to request the new, expensive, and sometimes only slightly changed drug. (According to This American Life, this is at least partly responsible for out-of-control insurance prices.) Think this happened with Claritin/Loratadine?

Schering launched an expensive advertising campaign to convince users to switch to Clarinex (Desloratadine), which is a metabolized form of Loratadine. A 2003 study comparing the two drugs found that “There is no clinical advantage to switching a patient from loratadine to desloratadine.”

Clarinex, of course, is only available by prescription. Ask your doctor now! (But don’t ask if it’s the same as Claritin.)

Don’t be surprised if, sometime in the near future, drug companies start lobbying, hard, to extend the patents of their drugs, much the same way that major content copyright holders such as Disney and Viacom are desperately trying to extend the copyright lifetimes of music, movies, and trademarked characters.

Of course, Americans love their drugs. (Who doesn’t?) Given the backlash that will likely occur, they’ll go about it some sneaky way, perhaps cloaking it in some protective initiative: Americans must protect themselves against the wave of dirty immigrant drugs. And it’ll fill me with disgust, and I’ll have to start drinking again.


2 thoughts on “Loratadine. And drug companies.

  1. Great topic. In the pharmaceutical world, the latest isn’t always the greatest and it’s right that you should address that. In the vast majority of other countries, pharmaceutical companies are FORBIDDEN by law to market to the general public. Not that I think the government always knows best, but it this case the governments of the other countries understand that most people simply don’t have the expertise to distinguish between drugs they need and drugs they don’t. And pharmaceutical companies routinely invent illnesses to “cure.” Remember “Restless Leg Syndrome”? Sure, some people really suffer from this. But do the VAST majority of them NEED a pill for it? The answer is NO. So why would a doctor prescribe something like this in cases when it’s not needed? Two reasons:
    1. Kickbacks – drug companies routinely send representatives to doctor offices ( I saw one the other day at an appointment. She was a young woman, dolled up, and overly friendly to EVERYONE in the waiting room. She had her bag with free samples and was waiting patiently for my doctor. She was so full of shit.)Often, the representatives will offer incentives for refering their brand of drug.
    2. Patient Turnaround – the more patients a doctor sees, the more money his practice gets. We can’t blame them necessarily – malpractice insurance and other costs have narrowed the profit margin in the medical field. When someone comes in complaining of “Restless Leg Sydrome”, having obviously been influenced by the commercial, and asking for the specific drug which the commercial is marketing, it’s faster and easier to give the patient the script and send them on their way. The doctor COULD spend the time to talk about diet or more excersise, or whatever home remedies could be administered. But as you said…”American’s love their drugs.” So he writes the script and whoosh….on to the next patient. Cha-ching.

    The end result is that we are needlessly putting things into our bodies that may have inadvertent side effects (all drugs have some side effect, however small), and the pharmaceutical companies continue to spend more and more on marketing, which increases the price of the durgs.
    There are geopolitical implications as well. If you haven’t seen “the Constant Gardener” staring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, you should. Besides being a great, if sombering, movie, it shows how the pharmaceutical industry uses African villages as testing grounds for up and coming drugs. I definitely recommend it.

    • Preachin’ to the choir, man. It’s not that pharmaceutical companies are evil places run by evil people, but when you create a product intended to ease suffering or improve the quality of life, the standard of ethics and expectation for ethical behavior is (or should be) greatly raised. And, arguably, monitored by a vigilant public. It’s too big a task for each individual to figure out whether to blindly take candy from the stranger or wear the tinfoil hat of paranoia, this stuff just needs more sunlight. That, and a consumer base with a little more healthy skepticism.

      “This town needs an enema.” (Joker, 1989)

Comments are closed.