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Saturday December 18, 2004
Who can you trust these days? It seems not giant pharmaceutical companies. The world’s largest drug company, Pfizer (makers of Viagra), is currently on the back foot following reports that that its best-selling drug, Celebrex, causes heart problems. This comes hot on the heels of another safety concern after another drug giant, Merck, had to withdraw one of its market leaders, the painkiller Vioxx, when clinical tests proved it to increase the risk of heart attacks. Merck’s share price has plummeted by one-third since September and the company is being sued for $18 billion. These are the latest on a string of scandals surrounding blockbuster drugs - those which rake in $1 billion plus in annual sales for their makers.
Celebrex, which is used to relieve pain by 26 million arthritis patients in the USA alone, is almost as high-profile a drug as Viagra. Pfizer says it has no plans to withdraw its money-spinner, which has earned the drug giant a whopping 2.3 billion dollars in the first 9 months of this year. The tests so far indicate the drug may be harmful if taken at four times the usual dose. Profits seem to come first for drug companies, which will only withdraw products after years of testing and courtroom battles, during which share values continue to rise. In 2003 Pfizer made a profit of $3.91 billion, and had sales of 45.2 billion dollars. However, Celebrex may suffer the same fate as Vioxx and be withdrawn if the link between the drug and cardiovascular problems is proven.
POSSIBLE WARM UPS / COOL DOWNS
1. CHAT: Talk in pairs or groups about medicines & drugs / drug companies / drug safety / corporate greed / corporate responsibility / shareholder-pressure …
2. MY MEDICINE CABINET: Brainstorm all of the drugs students know / take. Discuss in pairs / groups.
3. HYPOCHONDRIACS: Write this word on the board. Under it put the following sample health problems the squeamish may want to omit one or two:
4. 2-MINUTE DEBATES: Students face each other in pairs and engage in the following (for-fun) 2-minute debates. Students A are assigned the first argument, students B the second. Rotate pairs to ensure a lively pace and noise level is kept:
Drugs make us live longer and reduce our pain. vs. We can live longer with a healthier lifestyle.
1. WORD SEARCH: Students look in their dictionaries / computer to find collocates, other meanings, information, synonyms … of the words ‘drug’, and ‘medicine’.
2. HEADLINE: Put the article headline on the board for students to talk about / predict / speculate. Pairs / groups formulate and present their own guesses as to the contents of the report.
3. TRUE / FALSE: Students look at the headline and predict whether they believe the following statements are true or false:
(a) You can always trust giant pharmaceutical companies to tell the truth. T / F
4. SYNONYM MATCH: Students match the following synonyms from the article:
5. PHRASE MATCH: Students match the following phrases based on the article (sometimes more than one combination is possible):
WHILE READING ACTIVITIES
1. GAP-FILL: Put the missing words under each paragraph into the gaps.
Another killer painkiller?
3. TRUE/FALSE: Students check their answers to the T/F exercise.
4. PHRASE MATCH: Students check their answers to the phrase match exercise.
5. QUESTIONS: Students make notes for questions they would like to ask the class about the article.
6. VOCABULARY: Students circle any words they do not understand. In groups pool unknown words and use dictionaries to find the meanings.
7. COURTROOM BATTLE: Students make notes from the article that might be used in a courtroom role play to defend or prosecute Pfizer and Celebrex (teacher pre-assigns prosecutors / defence lawyers?)
POST READING IDEAS
1. GAP-FILL: Check the answers to the gap-fill exercise.
2. QUESTIONS: Students ask the discussion questions they thought of above to their partner / group / class. Pool the questions for all students to share.
3. VOCABULARY: As a class, go over the vocabulary students circled above.
4. STUDENT-GENERATED SURVEY: Pairs/Groups write down 3 questions based on the article. Conduct their surveys alone. Report back to partners to compare answers. Report to other groups / the whole class.
5. COURTROOM BATTLE: Students share and discuss ideas based on the notes they made regarding Pfizer. Half of the students are defence, the other half prosecution lawyers. Once they have generated ideas in pairs/groups, face each other and argue their respective cases. This may be done in pairs / groups / or whole class. Following the role plays, change roles and repeat. Following this, talk in pairs about what was said in-role play and whether that corresponded to their own (real) feelings / opinions.
6. PHARMACEUTICAL DISCUSSION: Students ask each other the following questions:
(a) Do you use medicine often?
7. DRUG ADVERTISING: Cut out from magazines and take into class some glossy advertisements for drugs choose a selection (pain killers / hair loss remedies / skin rejuvenation products / cold remedies / cough mixtures / indigestion tablets / acne creams…). Students choose one each and analyse the sales spiel. They report to the class on their ad and its credibility / possible exaggerations / downright misleading images playing on peoples’ weaknesses etc
8. WHO CAN YOU TRUST THESE DAYS? Students ask each other about / rank the trustworthiness of the following:
1. VOCAB EXTENSION: Choose several of the words from the text. Use a dictionary or the Google search field to build up more associations / collocations of each word.
2. INTERNET: Search the Internet and find more information on Homo floresiensis. Share your findings with your class next lesson.
3. STAY HEALTHY: Create an information poster detailing what to do instead of going to the doctor and asking for drugs.
4. LETTER TO PFIZER: Write a letter to the CEO of Pfizer requesting he/she withdraw Celebrex immediately.
TRUE / FALSE:
(a) You can always trust giant pharmaceutical companies to tell the truth. F