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Friday, 25 April 2014

Dallas Buyer’s Club Illustrates How Regulations Kill


Just a few weeks ago, Hollywood honored Matthew McConaughey with the Academy Award for Best Actor in the movie Dallas Buyer’s Club. Matthew plays Ron Woodroof, a real-life Texas electrician and rodeo rider, who discovers that he has contracted AIDS after sex with an infected drug user. The doctors tell him he has only 30 days to live. The year is 1985, and no treatment is available on the US market.
Woodroof quickly discovers in a very personal way just how deadly the FDA’s consumer protection regulation can be. His doctor offers him a place in a clinical trial, which was designed to test how effective AZT (zidovudine) is against HIV. AZT will eventually become the first drug available in the US for the treatment of AIDS.

However, going into the clinical trial doesn’t guarantee that Woodroof will get AZT. Until the trial is over—and his 30 days is already up—Woodroof won’t know if he is getting placebo (a sugar pill) or AZT. The FDA requires the drug maker to give placebo to half of the patients, so that AZT’s effectiveness can be “proven.” Woodruff is appalled that he and other desperately ill people are being used as guinea pigs in this way. 

Rather than enter the clinical trial, Woodroof sets out to find himself a cure. First, he bribes an employee to raid the hospital’s supply of the AZT used in the trial. When that source dries up, Woodroof researches what’s available in other countries, starting with Mexico. He finds that other nations with less stringent regulations already have anti-viral drugs in their pharmacies that might work against the AIDS virus. Woodroof finds a doctor who uses clean living and nutrition, along with some of these other options, to stabilize his condition. 

Like several other HIV positive-individuals across the U.S. (see Jonathan Kwittney’s book, Acceptable Risks for some other stories), Woodroof sets up a Buyer’s Club to help other patients gain access to drugs available outside the country. The FDA goes after Woodroof, even though the agency has mostly ignored clubs in California and New York. The FDA confiscates his inventory without a trial, keeping potentially life-saving treatments from suffering AIDS patients. Woodroof fights back. 

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