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Answer the question, Montel
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Last week, while visiting Savannah to promote a program offering free prescriptions to low income people, talk show host Montel Williams became upset when an intern for a local newspaper asked him a question that he evidently felt was inappropriate.

Instead of answering the question, Williams ended the interview abruptly and moved on.  Later in the day, Williams and the intern were involved in another unfortunate confrontation that has been well documented by the national news media.

While I feel badly for Mr. Williams and even worse for the young intern, the incident has unfortunately diverted attention away from some important issues at hand — the reason for the visit and most importantly the question that was not answered.   

The program that Williams is a spokesman for, The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), is sponsored by several of America’s pharmaceutical research companies to help assist low income people find ways to obtain their prescription medicines. The program claims to have helped over 4.5 million people nationwide and some 190,000 Georgians.  

As a practicing pharmacist, I have utilized the program for many of my patients and found it to be a great service. As a state legislator, I have also found the program to be of great help in cases where constituents have no other place to turn. In fact, the Department of Community Health is well aware of the program and routinely recommends it to those Georgians in need.

But what about the question that the young intern asked Mr. Williams — do you think pharmaceutical companies would be discouraged from research and development if their profits were restricted?

I don’t really know why this question set Mr. Williams off as it did.  It is a perfectly appropriate question and one that needs to be asked.  

Earlier the intern had asked Mr. Williams what he thought was the main cause of high drug costs and I thought his answer was a good one. He cited the costs involved in research and development as well as the costs of getting the product to market and defending it against lawsuits. After all, Mr. Williams pointed out, we are the most litigious society in the world and that contributes to high costs.

Three years ago our state legislature in Georgia recognized how a litigious society can impact health care costs and passed tort reform to address the issue of frivolous lawsuits and outrageous awards.    

But what about restricting profits from pharmaceutical companies — would this discourage them from putting more money into research and development? Being a believer in the free market I certainly believe in the right of Pharmaceutical companies to make a profit, but when, if ever, should it be capped?

In my 27 years of practicing pharmacy, I have seen advances in drug therapy that amaze me. People are being treated with prescriptions for illnesses today that would have required them to be hospitalized a few years ago. Those who would have spent weeks in the hospital are now getting out in only days thanks to advances in drug therapy.

Lives are being prolonged and the quality of life is improved. None of this would have been possible if not for research and development.     

While I marvel at the advances, my heart also aches when I see people come into my business and try to decide whether to buy their medicine or buy groceries. While I have seen many people’s lives saved by the advances made in drug therapy, I have seen just as many succumb earlier than they should have because they could not afford their medicine.

The question the young intern asked last week is a good one and deserves an answer. As a spokesperson for the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, Montel Williams should have an answer.  

More importantly, as a sufferer of MS and a beneficiary of the miracles of modern drug therapy, Montel Williams should want to answer.