Just when the controversial new Medicare drug bill has been passed, a new report has come out showing that half the time, prescription drugs don’t work. And a couple of illegal drugs can cause changes in DNA that can be passed down to future generations.

Steve Connor reports in the Independent that Allen Roses, vice-president drug company GlaxoSmithKline, says that more than half of the patients who take expensive prescription drugs don’t get any benefit from them. Connor writes, “It is an open secret within the drugs industry that most of its products are ineffective in most patients but this is the first time that such a senior drugs boss has gone public.”

It turns out that drugs for Alzheimer’s disease only work for one of every three patients, and cancer drugs only work for 25% of patients. Drugs for migraines, for osteoporosis, and arthritis work about half the time. Diabetes drugs only work for about 60% of patients. Most of the time when drugs don’t work, it’s because the patient has genes that interfere with the medicine. Roses says, “The vast majority of drugs?more than 90%?only work in 30 or 50% of the people.” He thinks drug companies should create genetic tests to identify which patients will benefit from certain drugs before they’re prescribed. Also, if one drug doesn’t work, another may, and a genetic test would help doctors discover what drug works for which patients more quickly, without patients having to experience negative side effects from ineffective medicine.

At a time when drugs are being used more and more for treatment, and insurance companies and the government are trying to figure out how to pay for them, this knowledge could cut costs considerably, by avoiding unnecessary prescriptions.

Nobody ever accused cocaine and ecstasy of not working, but Italian researcher Giorgio Bronzetti says, “Cocaine and ecstasy have proved to be more dangerous than we had imagined. These drugs, on top of their toxicological effects, attack DNA provoking mutations and altering the hereditary material. This is very worrying for the effects it could have on future generations.”

Ecstasy use in the U.S. has increased 70% between 1995 and 2000, and is taken mostly by young people who are just entering their reproductive years.

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