06/18/2005 04:23 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Addicted to Greed

My friends Lane and Carol Sarasohn have an extraordinary grandchild, Flynn, who is on the front lines as he internalizes American culture. For example, his first words came, belatedly, straight out of a TV commercial: “Or your mattress is free!” More recently, he doodled “” At the age of seven, his autobiography--inspired by my own “Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut”--is titled “He’s Out of Control.” When he learned that Haagen-Daz was a made-up word signifying nothing, he began making up words himself, such as “Lavortis,” which sounds like a new prescription drug.

Yesterday, the Sarasohns received a large envelope with no return address. It showed an elderly woman holding various vials of pills and capsules, with a request, “Please sign our petition to make prescription drugs more affordable.” Inside was a form letter from Californians for Affordable Prescriptions in Sacramento. “Dear Friend,” it begins, “Millions of Californians worry about the cost of prescription drugs every day. It is a major problem for some families, a crisis for others. A solution is on the way in the form of the enclosed petition to establish a new drug discount program called Cal Rx. It will allow seniors and low and middle income families to buy prescription drugs at the lowest available price in the state....

“Manufacturers will have to provide drugs to Cal Rx at the lowest commercial price they sell to anyone in California. Pharmacists have also agreed to provide discounts to consumers. Consequently, the average discount will be at least 40% off regular retail prices....Enrollment is simple. People can sign up at their local pharmacy, doctor’s office, the Internet or through a toll-free number....It is critical we collect enough signatures to put this measure on the upcoming statewide ballot. Time is short, but we can do it with your help. Please take a moment today to sign the enclosed petition.”

The complicated four-page initiative measure and petition is much easier to sign than to read. Small print reveals that it is sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America California Initiative Fund, with major funding provided by Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co. Inc., and to be honest, I’m confused by what possible motivation they could have. Could an industry, which first invents diseases and then treatments for those diseases, possibly be replacing avarice with compassion?

My skepticism is exacerbated by Dr. Robert Neer, director of the Osteoporosis Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, who refers to the problem that comes from “calling osteopenia a disease when it is not.” By Dr. Steven Cummings, an epidemiologist at UC San Francisco, who states that the term osteopenia has “no medical meaning. I’ve seen patients who come in scared that they will become disabled soon because they have this ‘disease’ called osteopenia, when in fact they are normal for their age.” And by Gillian Sanson, author of “The Myth of Osteoporosisis,” who says that the medical establishment is “manufacturing patients” by over-emphasizing the normal bone loss that occurs with aging.

Fosamax, Actonel and Evista may now take their rightful place beside Lavortis. And, Flynn, you may now add Osteopenia to your list of made-up words signifying nothing.