Good for Suckers

    Good for Suckers

    Congress is investigating why drugs are so expensive in Brazil. After
    two weeks of hearings, the committee did not seem closer to a conclusion about high
    prices, but had to add new problems to be investigated.
    By Émerson Luís

    Aparecido Bueno Camargo, the president of Abrafarma (Associação Brasileira de Redes
    de Farmácias e Drogarias—Brazilian Association of Pharmacy and Drugstore Chains) was
    candidly talking to the members of a CPI (Comissão Parlamentar de
    Inquérito—Parliamentary Enquiry Committee when he dropped the bomb: "The
    medicine market is full of trash BO." BO? What does it mean, a committee member
    wanted to know. "Bom para otário" (Good for suckers), Camargo explained.
    And continued, a little puzzled by the commotion he caused: "This is a traditional
    classification. BOs have existed since pharmacies have." He wouldn’t name names, but
    promised to prepare a list of these products for dupes.

    The BO medicines, which are placebo products, are shelved together with the real stuff
    and are not illegal or clandestine. They are even licensed by the Health Ministry. In the
    days following Camargo’s revelation, some pharmacists disputed the meaning of BO, saying
    that it stood for bonus medicine, that is, drugs that bring a special commission to the
    pharmacist every time it is sold. What brings still another problem of the drug industry,
    the so-called empurroterapia (pushtherapy). Pharmacists and clerks are in the habit
    of trying to convince clients to buy those products that give them a bigger profit.

    Medicine in Brazil is a $12-billion-a-year business. Multinationals represent 95
    percent of this market, which has grown by 14 percent during the 1990s. Congress is
    investigating why drugs are so expensive in Brazil. After two weeks of hearings, the
    committee did not seem closer to a conclusion about high prices, but had to add new
    problems to be investigated. Pharmaceutical laboratories have been accused of intensely
    campaigning for and boycotting the introduction of generic drugs in Brazil.

    Earlier in the CPI, doctors’ representatives talked about a promiscuous relationship
    between physicians and pharmaceutical laboratories. For Edson Oliveira Andrade, president
    of CFM (Conselho Federal de Medicina—Federal Council of Medicine), there is
    "without a doubt, a significant interference of the pharmaceutical industry in the
    professional practice of doctors." To promote some drugs, doctors get from small
    souvenirs like pens to cars and trips overseas.

    Among the ideas being aired to prevent abuses are the prohibition of free sample
    distribution, the exclusive use of generic drugs on prescriptions and the ban of medicine
    ads outside medical publications.

    The president of the Doctors National Federation, Héder Murari Borba, thinks that is
    high time to curb the interference of labs. During his deposition he cited several
    instances in which this interference was very clear. He also brought stickers, which were
    distributed by a lab, for doctors to place on the prescriptions. They said: "I do not
    authorize the substitution of this drug." Representative Fernando Zuppo showed a
    communication by Pfizer urging doctors to participate in a competition whose top prize was
    a car.

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