Readers' Submissions

I Want a New Drug




“I want a new drug – one that won't spill.
One that don't cost too much, or come in a pill.
I want a new drug – one that won't go away,
One that won't keep me up all night, one that won't make me sleep all day.
One that won't make me nervous, wonderin' what to do …
One that makes me feel like I feel when I'm with you
When I'm alone with you, baby.”

Huey Lewis and the News

Having lived here in Thailand for a while now you would think that I would be used to just about anything. A girl on a motorcycle, talking on her cell phone…riding along at night time with no headlights…on the wrong side of the road…coming right at me! Ho-hum! Just another typical day in The Land of Smiles. They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I suppose that I am still alive and kicking is a testament to my ability to adapt to the Thai way of doing things. My eyes may still boggle out of my head a half dozen times a day as I go about my business, but I can honestly say that I am never bored. Around the corner is usually something interesting, bewildering, amusing, shocking, disgusting… well you get the idea. Amazing Thailand? Oh, most definitely!

Although I may grumble from time to time, I really am happy to be able to point out any aspects of life that are actually superior (in my humble opinion) to those in the corner of Farangland that I hail from. For example: The service I receive at my local Toyota dealership is brilliant. The shop floor is clean enough to eat off of. I am always treated with genuine courtesy, and the mechanics know what they are doing. The icing on the cake is due to the relatively low cost of labor my service bills are always quite modest. I would have to say that the Thai movie theatres I’ve been to are much swankier than those in the U.S. Thailand has a much more extensive…and inexpensive bus service than my former home. Today I would like to add one more advantage that Thailand has over Farangland: the availability of inexpensive generic drugs.

Anyone who’s followed my medical adventures since arriving on these jasmine scented shores won’t be surprised to know that I take a fair amount of prescription medication. Up until today, a large part of my monthly expenses was dedicated to paying for a host of medicines…expensive medicines. Medical care might cost less than comparable care in the west, but the cost of some of prescription drugs has remained dear. Recently though, the Thai government has allowed both the importation and production of two of the most popular and I should add extremely important medications… Zocor and Plavix.

Heart disease worldwide is a leading cause of death worldwide, including Thailand. Zocor (simvastatin) and Plavix (clopidogrel bisulfate) are invaluable medicines in helping to prevent heart attacks. Zocor is part of a class of drugs called statins. These help to reduce the production of “bad” cholesterol, which can clog up arteries. Despite a pretty damned good diet and exercise, my body is prone to high cholesterol. Without Zocor, it would be off the scale…despite my consuming more oatmeal than you would believe! (Note: Oatmeal is a soluble fiber that does an excellent job at reducing cholesterol. Luckily Big C is well stocked with Quaker Oats, so Thais must like it too!)

Plavix is a blood thinner. It helps inhibit blood platelets from “clumping” together. This can be critical in helping to prevent a heart attack or stroke. Common aspirin, among all its other marvelous properties, works as a blood thinner as well. I actually am on an aspirin regimen, in addition to my other meds.

Zocor is a product of Merck. Plavix is a product of Bristol-Meyers Squibb. These as you probably know are two of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Their yearly earnings are astronomical, to say the least. These two medications are both expensive. How expensive? A single 40 mg tablet of Merck’s Zocor will set you back 95 baht. A single tablet of Bristol-Meyers Squibb’s Plavix is also about that price. Yikes! These are not medications you take occasionally. If a physician prescribes them for you, you are, barring any possible side effects, probably on them forever.

That adds up to a major chunk of change folks. For me, that was almost 6000 baht per month…just for these two medications alone! I take other ones as well, but they are fairly inexpensive. I of course, by dint of working my butt off, have been able to afford everything I need. Still, it has always annoyed me to pay so much for some tiny tablets that cost only a few baht to produce, but what could I do? Big Pharma had Sawadee by the balls. All I could do was cough up the cash. (No pun intended…really!) That is until today. I happened to walk into the largest pharmacy in Lampang last week with a Thai friend of mine, who was picking up some medication for her American husband. Just for the hell of it I asked the pharmacist about generic equivalents for Zocor and Plavix. I had heard rumors last year that Thailand was going to allow generics to be imported from India. Well, imagine my surprise when the pharmacist reached on to a shelf and brought out my Holy Grails and put them on the counter in front of me!

The first thing I did was immediately open up the boxes and read the enclosed leaflets. Damn it if they didn’t seem to be the real deal! The generic “Zocor” was indeed said that it was simvastatin, and the generic “Plavix” was indeed said that it was clopidogrel bisulfate! And the price? The “Zocor” was 180 baht for 30 tablets. That’s 6 baht per tablet versus 95 for the brand name medication. The generic “Plavix” was a bit more expensive, at 27 baht per tablet, but still a huge savings over what I had been paying.

Okay, I just know that someone out there is asking himself the obvious question: Because this is Thailand, the Knock-off Capitol of The World, how do I know for certain that the tablets in the boxes are exactly what they claim to be? Are they in fact made of sugar? (Or something less palatable?) And if they are actually “real” medicine, were they manufactured with any semblance of quality control? Hmmmm, I think it's time to do some research! I spent quite a lot of time online checking up on the credentials of these generics, and their manufacturers. It seems that they are legit. Will wonders never cease?

Apparently the Thai health ministry has been concerned about the inability of your average Thai to be able to afford a number of important medications. These include not only those for heart disease, which is the number two killer, but those for HIV/AIDS which is number one. In the end it came down to protecting the patent rights of some huge international corporations versus protecting the health of the people of Thailand. Amazingly, the powers that be made the right decision for once…and as luck has it, helped out the finances of at least one Farang…me!

It seems that Thailand is actually on the forefront on the generic medicine movement. Yes, I know it’s hard to think of Thailand being a leader on any front, but in this case, it’s true. Naturally Big Pharma is plenty steamed up. Is anyone out there shedding tears for these guys? I’m not. Yes, pharmaceutical companies invest many millions of dollars in research and development, and yes, they certainly deserve to make a profit. That being said, both Merck and Bristol-Meyers Squibb, and all the others have reaped enormous profits from their investments, year after year after year. So to hell with “patent infringement”! Worldwide generic drugs save untold numbers of lives each year. If this means corporate executives need to cut back on their champagne and caviar budget, well, so be it!

Score one for Thailand, Chai-yo! Score one for Sawadee’s thin, thin wallet! Chai-yo!

Stickman's thoughts:

This is really good news for you and all the others who found a large chunk of their earnings going on these drugs. The big question now is what you will do with the 5,000 baht a month you'll be saving. Maybe Sawadee will soon have a buy 10, get 1 free card at the local massage parlour? :)