Off Label: Popping Pills for Fun and Profit

Off Label

Runs Fri., Sept. 6-Thurs., Sept. 12 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 80 minutes.

Containing little in the way of news or information, this advocacy doc about Big Pharma was supported in part by Northwest Film Forum and screened at last year’s Local Sightings Film Festival. It’s not local, however, nor are any of its half-dozen subjects, all touched by the testing, treatment, and misadministration of psychoactive drugs. (And no, the film has nothing to do with Tom Cruise or Scientology, though that would’ve made it more interesting.) Directors Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri sympathetically portray the “guinea pig” drug testers who eke out a living, barely, participating in human drug trials. They’re a sad lot, led by one bitter blogger who aged out of the medically desired demo and now inveigles against the industry that once supported him. Or abused him, depending on your perspective.

We also meet a bipolar woman who benefits from her bucketful of monthly meds, despite serious side effects and even more serious bills. An ex-con describes his uninformed consent to a prison drug trial that’s given him chronic health problems. And here’s a likable young Iraq War vet suffering from PTSD. “I don’t need medication. I need help,” he says. This is undoubtedly true, but while Frontline or any serious documentary would explain why drugs are so much cheaper than therapy, then provide numbers and an economic context against our nation’s rising health-care costs, Mosher and Palmieri just skip to the next friendly subject. Here’s a pair of tattooed punks in Rochester, Minnesota, who hate the Mayo Clinic—“It’s where people go to die”—but are funding their wedding by participating in drug trials. How cute.

The only guy worth following here is a former drug rep turned academic and consumer advocate, Michael Oldani, who explains how shady salesmen encourage doctors to write prescriptions for off-label drug uses. But what are the industry’s profits? What are the financial incentives for those doctors? And what do physicians or the FDA or public-health experts think? Again, Mosher and Palmieri don’t think to ask, and can’t even be bothered to read the basic literature (including Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma, for a start). Their movie is like a placebo for actual thinking. (Note: The directors will attend Friday and Saturday’s screenings.)

bmiller@seattleweekly.com

 
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