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It's time to get drug ads off TV

Question: I would like to start a movement to repeal the law that permits prescription drugs to be advertised directly to the public. Since this legislation was passed a few years ago, the drug companies have spent billions in advertising and drug prices have risen astronomically.

Encouraging people to take more pills costs all of us by increasing insurance premiums and leading to side effects that can put people in the hospital. So I hope you will ask your readers to write or e-mail their congressional representatives to get the Food and Drug Administration to repeal permission to advertise prescription drugs directly to the public.

Answer: Very few other industrialized countries permit direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. But in the United States, drug companies are spending nearly $3-billion on ads aimed at the public rather than at the prescribers.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers maintain that this media exposure educates consumers about treatment options. Critics point out that the cost of such commercials is passed on to consumers and raises the price of prescriptions.

Anyone who would like to join your campaign to roll back direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising can communicate with Lester M. Crawford Jr., D.V.M., who has just been appointed deputy FDA commissioner. The address is: 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857-0001.

Background on homocysteine

Question: I read recently that homocysteine can lead to Alzheimer's and heart disease. What is homocysteine?

Answer: Homocysteine is an amino acid, a building block of protein. It is formed in the body when people digest meat.

Research has shown that high homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of both heart disease and Alzheimer's. This compound is toxic to arteries and might also damage DNA in brain cells.

The B vitamins such as folic acid, B-6 and B-12 lower homocysteine levels and might reduce the damage it can cause. Another B vitamin, thiamine (vitamin B-1), also might be important against Alzheimer's. And niacin (vitamin B-3) can lower bad LDL cholesterol and raise good HDL cholesterol.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail or via their Web site,

King Features Syndicate