By Lloyd Grove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 13, 2001; Page C03
This past Sunday's New York Times Magazine cover story about the best-selling drug Claritin riveted Washington resident Debra Straus. Reading Stephen S. Hall's account of the Schering-Plough Corp.'s aggressive lobbying campaign for the marginally effective "non-drowsy" allergy remedy, the 44-year-old government lawyer came upon a gripping, 1 1/2-page narrative about her older brother, research physician Sherwin Straus.
The Times reported that in the late 1980s, Straus was a medical officer for the Food and Drug Administration and deeply skeptical of the pharmaceutical giant's ultimately successful effort to obtain FDA approval. Despite the agency's seal of approval, "it is impossible to determine whether Sherwin Straus had changed his mind," Hall reported. "Around the time he was assessing [the drug], according to former colleagues, he developed multiple sclerosis and became seriously ill, eventually dying of the disease."
Yesterday Debra Straus told us: "I was very angry."
And why? We thought we'd let her 49-year-old brother, Sherwin, explain: "Do I sound dead? Sometimes I feel dead. But actually, I'm alive and living in Gaithersburg," said the married father of two, who does indeed suffer from multiple sclerosis. "Are you sure you want to go up against the New York Times? I understand they're heavy hitters," he joked. "But my sister is a lawyer and she doesn't take prisoners. I read the article, and thought the guy wrote a very nice article -- well written and fairly well researched."
Author Hall, for his part, told us: "I obviously extend my apologies to Dr. Straus. But I'm delighted he's still alive." Hall -- who finally talked to Straus yesterday after our intervention, advising him that the Times will publish a correction -- said he made the mistake because of unreliable sources at the General Accounting Office and at the FDA, from which Straus resigned on medical disability in 1992.
Sherwin Straus, meanwhile,
said that while he uses a wheelchair, he's available to advise companies
on how to navigate the FDA bureaucracy and is hoping to publish his short
philosophical children's book, "The Great Squirrel." And, by the way, he
hasn't changed his mind about Claritin.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company