Today's NYT reports that newer drugs for schizophrenia are no better (ok, maybe a teeny weeny bit better) than older, cheaper drugs. Well, for patients anyway. For drug manufacturers, which have been marketing the heck out of these meds, they are a goldmine: the old treatment costs about $60 per month, compared with up to $450 for one of the newer meds, according to the article.
Sound familiar? You could replace "schizophrenia" with "arthritis pain" and be talking about Vioxx; or you could replace "schizophrenia" with "hypertension" and be talking about the legion of anti-hypertensive meds that don't improve on the performance of plain old diuretics ("water pills").
Where to begin with the ethical issues involved here? Let's see, there's patient safety. . . allocation of research dollars toward diseases for which decent treatment exists, while less common or less sexy conditions are research orphans. . . the effects of direct-to-consumer advertising. . . the effects of pharma marketing on physician prescribing patterns. . .