COMMENTS: Ease the Pain

This single TB patient was the springboard for Nancy Cordes to examine the general state of public health preparedness for an outbreak of infectious disease. There is no vaccine for SARS, none for West Nile Virus, and one for avian influenza is only in development. Cordes asked public health expert Eric Nuermberger at Johns Hopkins University why pharmaceutical companies have not developed new antibiotics for infectious diseases. He explained that a course of treatment may last seven days to one month so they "cannot generate the same kind of profits as a new cholesterol agent--or the new Viagra--which a person might take for years."

Nuermberger could have mentioned prescription painkillers and Armen Keteyian did in his CBS Investigation of so-called pill mills. Those are clinics that illegally prescribe narcotics without a mandatory physical examination. His cameras went undercover at a mill in Houston where four volunteers posing as patients obtained 720 doses of Vicodin, Xanax and Soma with neither a check-up nor a medical history. CBS' substitute anchor Anthony Mason told us that almost 20,000 deaths are caused annually nationwide by overdoses from abuse of pain pills.


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