When Dr. Peter Lurie was working at Public Citizen, he was known as one of the FDA’s biggest public opponents. He participated in congressional hearings, he fought Big Pharma, he spoke out on behalf of people who needed medicines or who had been hurt by the wrong medicine. Now he’s working inside the FDA, and Rob Stein of the Washington Post decided to find out what it’s like for someone like Lurie on the inside. The upshot? Lurie has realized “the issues are more complex than people on the outside of government can fully appreciate.” These may seem like wiggle words, but they’re certainly true. Government officials have to look at more sides of an issue than issue advocates outside government, and they have to take into account more stakeholders — including, in the FDA’s case, the extremely influential pharmaceutical companies. But in a way, working inside a large government agency and working with so many people, you end up being less exposed — certainly less exposed to some people’s anger than he was at Public Citizen. Asked by Stein why he hasn’t gotten more done more quickly on issues of concern at the FDA, Lurie gives a fair, but also fairly standard bureaucratic response:
It takes time to accomplish what the administration has in mind. I think people should not rush to judgment. The complexity of these issues are really extensive, and I think the other thing that I’ve come to understand better is the limits of what the agency can really do. Our hands are tied in a number of different ways that relate to the statutes – preexisting regulations and so on. And all of those things have to be taken into account when the agency tries to move forward.
They have to be taken into account, yes — but they may have to be changed as well. As a former high-profile issue advocate, Lurie has a special responsibility to keep pushing for improvements now that he’s a part of the system. And if and when he leaves government, let’s hope he doesn’t pursue the consulting or industry path that so many of his colleagues do. Armed with insider knowledge, Lurie should reemerge as a public advocate for safer medicines and medical treatments.