October 17th, 2005
Drug Business Prescribes a Novel Cure for Its Ills
By Lloyd Grove
New York Daily News
Who knew that the multibillion-dollar U.S. pharmaceutical industry was so keen on publishing pulp fiction?
In a tale worthy of a zany Washington satire - except for the lamentable fact that it’s true - the rich and powerful pharmaceutical lobby secretly commissioned a thriller novel whose aim was to scare the living daylights out of folks who might want to buy cheap drugs from Canada.
When the project fell through in July, I’m told the drug lobby offered $100,000 to the co-authors and publisher in a vain effort to sweep it under the rug.
Talk about thinking outside the box!
"This is the most outrageous example of deception and duplicity on the part of a Washington lobby in the history of the country," said Capitol Hill denizen Jeff Weaver, chief of staff to Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a diehard foe of the pharmaceutical industry.
Drug-lobby mouthpiece Ken Johnson, executive vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, acknowledged the hare-brained scheme but shifted blame.
"We did not commission a book," Johnson argued. "The idea was brought to us by an outside consultant. We explored it, provided some background information ... but in the final analysis, decided it wasn’t the right thing for us to do."
I’m told that Mark Barondess, a well-known divorce lawyer in Washington, D.C., was the so-called outside consultant and approached L.A.-based Phoenix Books with the novel idea.
Phoenix honcho Michael Viner, who happens to be Barondess’ publisher, struck a six-figure deal. I’m told PhRMA made at least one payment to Phoenix.
Viner declined comment, and Barondess didn’t respond to my detailed message.
Work began in April, after Viner hired veteran ghostwriter Julie Chrystyn. Her story concerned a Croatian terrorist cell that uses Canadian Web sites to murder millions of unwitting Americans looking for cut-rate pharmaceuticals.
PhRMA has vigorously fought all efforts to legalize the purchase of cheap drugs from Canada. Even though the lobby has found some success, the underground business still takes an estimated $1 billion in annual profits from American drug behemoths.
Chrystyn titled her thriller-in-progress "The Spivak Conspiracy," an homage to her friend Kenin Spivak, an L.A. telecomm entrepreneur and onetime Hollywood exec.
Spivak said he became Chrystyn’s co-writer after she delivered the first 50 pages, and PhRMA made several editorial suggestions.
"They said they wanted it somewhat dumbed down for women, with a lot more fluff in it, and more about the wife of the head Croatian terrorist, who is a former Miss Mexico," Spivak told me.
Apparently, women are among the most loyal buyers of Canadian drugs.
"They also wanted to change the motivating factor of the terrorists to greed, because they didn’t want it to be politics," Spivak said. "They wanted lots of people to die."
Spivak told me that since PhRMA pulled out - and he and his colleagues rejected the lobby’s offer of $100,000 to kill the project - he and Chrystyn have finished a revised version, "The Karasik Conspiracy," due early next year.