Last week, President Bush signed the most significant prescription drug safety legislation in nearly half a century. After weeks of tense behind-the-scenes negotiations, the House passed the final bill by a vote of 405 to 7, the Senate passed it unanimously. These veto-proof margins assured a Presidential signature.
But the huge margins do not mean this was an easy fight. Instead, this victory represents the culmination of a three-year long, intensive effort by Consumers Union to educate the public, lobby Congress, and bring constituents to meet with their own lawmakers.
This organized campaign effort generated more than 100,000 messages to Congress from people all over the country in just the last few months. Others followed up with more than 1,000 phone calls, and we also brought individuals to Washington, D.C. for face to face meetings with lawmakers to talk about their harrowing experiences with unexpected drug side effects.
In June, the Congressional visits coincided with a full-page ad in USA Today telling Patricia Slingo’s story, to great effect. “I can’t say for certain Vioxx caused my heart problems,” Patricia says, “but I wish I would have known what the drugmaker knew.”
If you are skeptical that all this really influenced the process, here’s just one story: Kim Witczak, an activist from Minnesota, lobbied and even presented testimony to a Congressional committee, urging lawmakers to require a toll-free number and website in all drug advertisements so anyone who suffers a bad reaction to a drug could easily report it to the FDA. This fresh new idea was included for all print ads in the final bill, with a study to see if the information should also go in TV ads.
What else did we get? Drug companies must make public the results of most of their drug studies and will face heavy fines for not complying with safety measures. No longer will companies be allowed to hide or downplay information from their studies that show health risks from drugs.
But the fight is not over. Drugs still cost too much, and the FDA needs to be a better watchdog. Although we have more to do, this victory is a big step forward. Thank you to everyone whose time and efforts helped pass this historic bill.