Letters: Medication Shortages And Chef Jacques Pepin

Talk of the Nation listeners write in with their comments about chef Jacques Pepin and the current shortage of prescription drugs.

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NEAL CONAN, host: It's Tuesday, and time to read from your comments.

Our conversation about the growing list of more than 200 medications now either in low supply or out of stock entirely brought this letter from Donald Caymans(ph). As an emergency physician for more than three decades, I have seen this issue evolve in concert with the imbalances in our overall economy. It's an issue of profit. In a recent discussion I had with my local pharmacist, I learned that the most commonly prescribed drug is Viagra. It's paid for in cash as insurance companies do not pay for it. The drug manufacturer has no problem making Viagra and has had no problem either in promoting its use more as a recreational drug than as a treatment for a previously unheard of disease. I do not understand why the whole medical care system, pharmaceuticals especially, are not required to give more of themselves and out of their pockets.

But Carolyn Green(ph) in Sudbury, Massachusetts, offered a different opinion. She wrote: I am a biopharmaceutical executive. Drug manufacturing is no different than other types of manufacturing. It has become a low margin, automated business and many companies outsource it to a few firms, many of which are overseas where labor is cheaper.

Also, manufacturing generics is a difficult business that relies on control over distribution channels and other barriers to entry, a term that refers to a barrier that allows a company to have an advantage over others. Without sufficient barriers, no one will invest the millions of dollars it takes to build, maintain and manage large manufacturing facilities. The government needs to find ways to give incentives to private industry to invest if the medical need is not accompanied by economic opportunity.

Many of you were thrilled to hear Chef Jacques Pepin on our program last week, and we had many more emails and calls than we were able to get to. This email from Eric Mack(ph) summed up what many of you expressed about Chef Pepin. I learned most of what I know in the kitchen, not just in technique but in sharing and enjoying the preparation of food from Jacques. Although an engineer by trade and title, I have since been head cook in two restaurants, have run cooking classes, and volunteer cook for various organizations, all with no official training outside of a glass of wine and the sense of fun that Jacques makes an imperative. Thanks for all the years of nourishment.

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