I Can’t Get Off Drugs


Although some of my peers are incredulous, I’ve never done drugs. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Last week was a busy week, to say the least, on the beat. Merck buys Schering-Plough. Roche buys Genentech. Gilead Sciences buys CV Therapeutics.


So, I was looking forward to the weekend and escaping all things drug-related. But as fate would have it, it ended up being bookended by references to pharma in a couple of surprising venues.

I went to see “Distracted” Friday night. A very funny, poignant off-Broadway play starring Cynthia Nixon of “Sex and the City” fame. The original script takes on the omnipresent role of technology in our lives, but at its core the play is really about ADD, ADHD, autism, depression, bipolar disorder, vaccines, etc. and all the drugs available to treat them. Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, Zoloft and others all get shouts out throughout the show. The playwright presents both sides of the wrenching debate, but in the end…well, I won’t spoil it for any of you who might go see it.

Then, Sunday night at 10 p.m. ET I sat down to watch the latest episode of “United States of Tara” on Showtime. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a suburban woman with dissociative identity disorder or DID, for short. A common theme of the plotline is the main character’s chronicling of her illness since she has decided to go off her meds. So, here too, there’s definitely a message about the drug industry. But in last night’s installment, it was blatant. Tara and her daughter find themselves at a hotel where a drug sales rep conference is taking place. They meet up with two lecherous guys. One of them flashes a handful of free drink tickets saying, “I’m pretty high up at Merck.” I’m sure Merck is thrilled with that kind of “product placement.” I’m being facetious, just in case that gets misread. Then, later, the other salesguy is going on about the new vanity plate he’s ordered for his car. It’s gonna say, “DRUG DLR.” Again, just the image big pharma loves. Again…facetious.

At a time when the industry is bracing for a big battle in Washington on a variety of issues, it clearly still has some image problems in pop culture. It can lobby and fight the politicians. Hollywood and the theater not so much.

Follow me on Twitter at mhuckman.

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