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Patently Misleading?
Jeff Stark's article about GHB ("Drug Story," Nov. 29) seriously misled readers about two issues and did them a minor disservice on a third.

First item: Despite what FDA and drug industry spokespersons would like everybody to believe, GHB cannot be patented. Period. Ask a patent lawyer. They will tell you that naturally occurring chemical structures that are found in the human body (like GHB) are not eligible for chemical patents. Chemical patents can only be obtained for "novel" chemical entities that are created by the patent seeker.

The FDA's attempts to mislead the public by intimating that use patents are somehow equivalent to chemical patents is disingenuous. Quite the contrary, use patents are ineffective for recouping the levels of investment required to obtain FDA approval for anything. Use patents do not protect against competition from other uses of a substance, of which there are usually many. Since a company cannot have the market exclusivity that would come from a chemical patent, they cannot charge the hundredfold markups that would be required to earn the millions of dollars it costs for FDA approval. Michael Swit was quoted as saying, "The people who tell you that it cannot be patented and that that prevents the FDA from approving are giving you an argument that is not 100 percent viable." Big deal, so it's only 99.44 percent viable. To a lawyer, the tiny profit that use patents engender may be technically real enough to mislead the public, but to a venture capitalist it is merely a belly laugh.

Use patents do not drive the pharmaceutical market. The rare exception is when technical production methods are either supremely difficult (as in the Taxol example offered), or directly patentable themselves (as in the Taxol example offered), or the substance can only be used under controlled conditions (i.e., intravenous administration by doctors). Gee, Taxol, again. None of these circumstances apply to GHB.

Second item: GHB is no longer legally considered a drug in the United States. Since the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act in November of 1994, GHB falls under the new definition of "dietary supplement" and is therefore a food. This new law prevents the FDA from removing GHB from the food category without a rule-making hearing sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services. Despite this legal change, the FDA and Justice Department continue to prosecute people for having sold GHB as a dietary supplement in the past. Not only is this policy a huge waste of taxpayer money, it is futile. The fundamental weakness of the government's case and prosecutorial misconduct are causing their cases to unravel faster than they can spin new falsehoods about GHB.

Third item: The article left readers with no means of obtaining GHB other than the street. This is risky. Alternatively, CERI maintains a listing of mail-order sources that can supply high-purity pharmaceutical-grade GHB. U.S. sources require a prescription; overseas sources do not.

Otherwise, good job on a difficult subject.
Steven William Fowkes, Executive Director
Cognitive Enhancement Research Institute
Menlo Park

Jeff Stark replies: My story did not imply that a chemical patent for GHB was possible. However, a use patent, if approved by the FDA, can give a company a short-term monopoly for a specific application, allowing it to recoup dollars spent on the approval process.

He'll Be Watching
In "C.R.U.S.H." (Nov. 22) George Cothran writes, "But sometimes, in the legitimate pursuit of killers, they [police officers] appeared to cross the line." Breaking the law to pursue people breaking the law, especially violating people's civil rights, is not legitimate pursuit. If the SFPD is violating people's civil rights while reporters are doing stories, one can imagine how often the police break the law when reporters are not around.

As someone who documents police misconduct with video cameras, I can tell you that the way the police act on camera is regularly very different from when they are off camera. In fact, I would say that some officers violate people's rights so much that they forget what those rights are in the first place -- and can't remember when a video camera (or reporter) happens to be there. For instance, it appears in the article that the officers forgot that holding a boombox and wearing red bandannas and red sweaters is not probable cause for detaining people and performing warrant checks on them. Then one of the officers has the gall to say, "If someone goes off on you, we could be there for you," while he and his fellow officers are the people "going off" on two citizens on a street corner.

The SFPD is out of control, and the SFPD doesn't realize it's out of control. This is a dangerous problem. I wish I could have been there with my video camera to try to stop those police officers from "going off" on those two bystanders.

Timothy Craig Maschok
Street Watch
San Francisco

Staking a Claim
Paul Reidinger takes a stab (literally) at La Paloma ("California Sweet," Eat, Nov. 22), a restaurant that deserves better. Reidinger ought to stick to films, and you should hire someone who knows how to review a restaurant -- not try to put a stake through its heart.

If there are "gay ghetto" restaurants, La Paloma is not one of them. As a straight woman who lives in Noe Valley, I often walk to La Paloma to meet friends (straight and gay). I go because the food is outstanding. It's fresh, inventive, and delicious, and I always get a nice surprise (lemon-thyme butter cookie with my check, toasted pumpkin seeds in my caramelized apple-onion soup) with my meal. The sweet things (e.g., figs in cabernet) are balanced (with bitter greens like arugula) and always interesting. What's more, I can actually have a conversation there and I'm made to feel like family by the waitstaff. If Reidinger was treated rudely or ripped off, I could understand his venom. La Paloma offers great food (your reviewer didn't even mention the fabulous waffles and the best frittata ever) at affordable prices. It would be a shame if anyone were to be dissuaded by your reviewer's incompetence and vituperation.

Wendy Beck
San Francisco

Eat, Drink, and Be Gay
After reading Paul Reidinger's review of La Paloma Bakery Cafe ("California Sweet"), I came away feeling that the author should stick to movie reviews and leave restaurants to the more qualified.

As longtime resident of the Castro, I feel the opening of La Paloma was a welcome addition to the neighborhood. The "gay ghetto" mentality of restaurants that Reidinger cites as a reason for lack of good dining in the Castro is definitely not the case at La Paloma. Whether it's the freshness of the ingredients or the inventiveness of the dish, the food at La Paloma borders on outstanding. I have found a place in the Castro that's not only tranquil and friendly, but also quite satisfying to the palate and the pocketbook as well.

Greg Matracia
San Francisco

Court Retort
My purpose in writing is to clarify the inaccuracies in "Guardian Angels?" (Bay View, Nov. 8) about private professional conservators.

Generally, George Cothran's article implies that professional conservators are rarely subject to oversight. In fact, the Probate Court holds private professional conservators to the standards established by the Probate Code. Private professional conservators are routinely fully bonded, and their performance is regularly scrutinized. Detailed investigations are performed by court staff before a professional conservator is ever appointed, after the first year, every other year after that, and when there is a complaint. In the case mentioned in the article, three reports had been done since 1994 addressing in detail the concerns of all parties involved. While court employees are prohibited from discussing the specifics of cases, I can tell you there has been enormous court attention paid to this case.

The statements that Probate Courts "have enough cracks and holes when it comes to conservatorships to engender such distrust" and "Put simply, the field is a gold mine for abuse" are particularly misleading. Private professional conservators are removed from their appointments when they become abusive or neglectful. The private professional conservator (David Downie) mentioned in the article as being removed has in fact been removed and no longer serves in any capacity that is supervised by the court. If Cothran had made a more timely and concerted effort to talk with court staff, he would have been informed of this.

There would be no need for private professional conservators if there were no dysfunctional families, if people did not abandon their elders, and if the public guardian budget was adequate. The plain truth is that private professionals are badly needed and, in fact, often take the most difficult cases as well as cases where there is little or no money.

Some facts in the article are flat-out inaccurate. For instance, Cothran states that the private professional conservator had the conservatee declared incompetent in Probate Court. In fact, the issue of incompetency is never discussed in Probate Court in connection with conservatees. Incompetency is an obsolete legal standard in conservatorships since 1981. Current legal standards are more concerned with actual functional capabilities, not global incompetency.

Another substantial inaccuracy occurs where Cothran states that private professional conservators were removed in 100 cases and the cases were then turned over to the public guardian. This simply is not true.

When Cothran spoke with Judge Isabella Grant, the presiding judge of the Probate Court, she invited him to come to the Probate Court and learn about the procedures. Cothran declined and said he had a deadline. In the future, if your paper is writing about these matters, I would invite the reporter to attend the Thursday morning calender where conservators are appoR>iR>nted, to review the materials we have prepared for conservators, to view the film that has been prepared, and to speak with staff about our procedures. If the reporter had done so in this instance, I'm sure he would have found that his story was grossly inaccurate and a grave disservice to the public.

Alan Carlson, Chief Executive Officer
Superior Court of California
San Francisco

George Cothran replies: The question of whether there is enough oversight of professional conservators is a subjective one. In my story, I outlined the checks and balances in the system that Carlson refers to in his letter. The simple truth is that while Carlson, as a court officer invested in the system, thinks the mechanisms by which the court monitors conservators are adequate, many lawyers, family members, and conservatees beg to differ. Moreover, Carlson says that I misused the term "incompetency" when discussing how the court views conservatees who are incapable of making decisions for themselves. He says that there is no legal term or standard to describe or measure incompetency. I never said there was. I used the term in its everyday, not its legal, connotation. Finally, as for Carlson's refuting the article's statement that 100 conservators have been removed from cases for misconduct, I refer him to Public Guardian Ricardo Hernandez, who says that he receives approximately 100 cases a year where a conservator has been removed for some form of misconduct.


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