Westchester Square docs take aim at asthma

It’s a problem that reaches staggering proportions in some areas of the Bronx, and on Thursday, September 23 it led leaders of the pharmaceutical industry to Westchester Square Medical Center to tout treatment developments.

A press conference on childhood asthma was presented by Senator Jeff Klein, Westchester Square Medical Center staff and administration, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which is a trade industry group representing pharmaceuticals companies nationwide.

Klein touted 76 new drugs currently being developed or tested to treat childhood asthma. Of these new drugs, 21 are being developed in New York State.

Klein and PhRMA spokesman Jeff Trewhitt said that the industry is helping to provide low and no-cost asthma medications through a nationwide clearing house. Klein also stressed that pharmaceutical development creates high-paying jobs all over the state. Klein said that government has come a long way in realizing the seriousness of the issues in “asthma alley,” which he defined as zip codes that have as high as 42% childhood asthma rates.

But much more work is needed to save lives.

“Unfortunately, asthma remains a debilitating, chronic, and at times fatal disease for thousands of children in our city,” Klein said. “By working together, we can ensure that asthma sufferers get the treatment and medical resources they need and are able to lead healthy and active lives.”

WSMC CEO and president Alan Kopman thanked Klein for all of his work on behalf of asthma patients. Klein is working to keep the hospital open after the now defunct Berger Commission, a Pataki-era entity mandated to reduce health care costs, recommended its closure.

For the pharmaceutical industry, the forum presented a chance to speak to the public about new medicines being developed by companies like Novartis, Pfizer, Forest Laboratories, Nycomed, Johnson and Johnson, and Emisphere Technologies in New York City and State.

“The drugs that are being developed for asthma are potentially very important in New York City where there were 50,601 asthma hospitalizations during 2007 and 2008,” Trewhitt said.

“Children 14 years of age and younger accounted for more than 15,700 of those hospitalizations. They also accounted for over 76,000 of the 202,827 emergency room visits for asthma in the city during those years.”

Trewhitt also took time to tout the pharmaceutical research industry’s Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a free point of access to more than 475 programs that provide free or nearly free drugs to patients in need. Nearly 200 of the programs are sponsored by the drug development companies themselves and the others are provided by other private sector groups and government agencies.

The program, which WSMC director of social work Ellen Riener said is a big help to individuals of modest means, covers more than 2,500 brand-name and generic medications.

“The process of finding out whether you qualify and which programs you qualify for is easy,” Trewitt said. “Whether you call the toll free number, or access the web site, it only takes about 15 minutes.”

The PPA program also provides information on free clinics. Its toll free number is (888) 477-2669, and the web site is www.pparx.org.

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