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October 24th, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club ***1/2

 

There are two different categories of drugs:

 

1. Medicine prescribed by a doctor that you purchase legally at a pharmacy.

 

2. Medicine that you learn about from friends or the internet that you have to purchase from a dealer and could potentially lead to arrest.

 

There is no official definition to determine which substances can be purchased legally for a small copay and which substances can lead to a long jail sentence. So who gets to decide?

 

In the United States, it’s the FDA.

 

The Food and Drug Administration was established in 1906. The organization has the stated purpose of making sure that any legal drug is “safe and effective when used as directed.” Any new medication needs to be rigorously tested before being approved for legal sale in the US.

 

That sounds like a pretty wholesome mission statement. However, there are flaws in the foundation of the FDA. What happens when a new disease strikes and people don’t have years to wait for a new experimental drug to be approved? And what happens when a powerful corporation has a new treatment and is willing to pay to make sure that it doesn’t have any competition?

 

Both of these questions are posed in “Dallas Buyers Club.” And the answers are unsettling.

 

The year was 1985. Texas party animal Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) was diagnosed with HIV. He pleaded with doctors for help. But the only AIDS medicine they had was AZT and it was still in the trial stage. The hospital effectively told him to drop dead.

 

Ron wasn’t going down without a fight. He went to Mexico and began taking an experimental cocktail of virus inhibitors and white blood cell boosters. When he started feeling better, Ron smuggled the medicine back home and began selling it to his fellow HIV patients.

 

You’d think that the medical establishment would have tried to learn from Ron’s success or at least congratulated him for helping so many sick people. But no. The company that produced AZT wanted to keep its monopoly. They worked with the FDA to shut down Ron’s business and confiscate his supply of alternative medicine.

 

It’s a shameful episode in an American history. The FDA actively stopped dying people from receiving the treatment they wanted. That is morally indefensible.

 

For the record, I am grateful for the pharmaceuticals industry. The world is a better place thanks to their research and their medicines. The innovative immune suppressant drugs that I take for Crohn’s disease allow me to function and go to work every day.

 

However, I am disappointed that another known treatment for Crohn’s disease – marijuana – remains illegal. And that’s for no other reason than the fact that neither Merck nor Pfizer has found a way to mass produce a profitable Cannabis pill.

 

The way that drugs become medicine in America has become a slow, bureaucratic, and corrupt process. “Dallas Buyers Club” is a powerful message movie that exposes one of the darkest episodes in the history of the FDA.

 

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