Pharmaceutical companies, which lately have been marketing prescription drugs through "ask your doctor if you need ..." television advertising campaigns, are on the road again to promote programs that help patients buy them.

The Help Is Here Express, which features an orange bus equipped with computer terminals, is scheduled to be at the state Capitol at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Emmy-winning syndicated television talk show host Montel Williams will speak.

Computer terminals are provided to help determine on the spot if someone is eligible for the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) program. Williams will be there to explain why people, particularly uninsured Utahns, should sign up.

The campaign is underwritten by several pharmaceutical research companies and is being endorsed by governors, public health agencies, private business and civic organizations. This is the second road trip for the express, which has visited 1,500 cities in all 50 states and has helped 5 million patients — including 26,000 Utahns — since the program began in April 2005.

Staff members on the bus tour are trained to help patients obtain medications prescribed by their doctors by accessing 475 patient-assistance programs, nearly half of which are offered by pharmaceutical companies.

The help is practical, but the message is hope, said Billy Tauzin, president and CEO of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. "With the number of people affected by chronic disease increasing every year, the PPA and its message is now more relevant than ever," Tauzin said in a news release announcing the Salt Lake visit.

The most common diseases being targeted by pharmaceutical research are cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and stroke. Those chronic conditions detract from the quality of life and ultimately account for seven in every 10 deaths in the United States, according to a research institute association with the campaign.

The assistance program is aimed at uninsured and financially strapped patients, Tauzin said, but the program will also help anyone with a chronic disease to find out if they qualify for other programs.

"The PPA is a concerted and effective effort to reach those who still need help," Williams said. "And I'm going to do everything I can to get the word out. As a patient who must cope every day with the effects of multiple sclerosis, I understand only too well the importance of having access to the medicine you need."

The Partnership for Prescription Assistance Bus Tour is scheduled to be at the Utah County Health and Justice Center, 151 N. University Ave., Provo, this Friday from 1-2 p.m.

The bus tour in Utah also includes Logan, Brigham City, Ogden, South Salt Lake and Midvale.


E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com