Why individual stockpiling of anti-flu medications in case of illness is a bad idea.

When Kelly Kimura came down with an ordinary case of the flu last Sunday, her husband, Darren, called the local pharmacy, hoping to fill her prescription for Tamiflu by the end of the day. He was surprised by the clerk’s response: because of a flood of requests during the week, the pharmacy, a branch of Longs Drugs (owned by CVS) in Mililani, Hawaii, had none of the antiviral drug left in stock. They were also unable to find Tamiflu or Relenza, a similar medication taken with an inhaler, at other Longs and Walgreens locations nearby. By Monday afternoon, after driving a total of 60 miles around the island of Oahu with no success, the couple was frustrated and panicked.

“[The pharmacists] said they’d never seen anything like it,” says Darren. Retailers on Oahu, Hawaii’s most populous island, told Kimura that the shortage was caused by a surge of buyers likely hoping to stockpile drugs after reports of swine-flu cases in several mainland U.S. states. The Kimuras were lucky; by the time they returned to their local Longs store on Monday night, the pharmacist had found a single box of Tamiflu that hadn’t shown up in his computer system. But as swarms of anxious patients ask their doctors for Tamiflu and Relenza prescriptions “just in case”—the government announced plans on Monday to release 12 million doses of oseltamivir phosphate (the generic name for Tamiflu) from its 50 million-dose reserve—some prescription holders are unable to find the drugs in pharmacies. Representatives for both Longs and Walgreens confirmed that their retail stores have been seeing increased demand and that some had “temporary stock outages” over the weekend. The scene in Hawaii, a state with no reported cases of swine flu so far, is repeating itself across the country. CVS reports increased demand in New York City, while Walgreens has seen interest spike in New York, California, Texas and Illinois.

Generally, people who seek prescription medications but can’t find them at pharmacies may resort to one of three options, according to Jeffery Goad, an associate professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of Southern California. Buyers with a prescription may shop at online pharmacies based in the United States, many of which are certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Those without prescriptions may try to buy online from companies based in Europe, Latin America and Asia, which claim to offer the same drugs (or their generic equivalents), but violate U.S. law by shipping products across the border without certification. Another, more immediate option is the informal black market: the same word-of-mouth network that traffics in illegal substances and prescription drugs like Vicodin.

Brad Walbrun is an old hand at stockpiling. The 35-year-old Illinois native buys antibiotics online without a prescription and keeps them on hand for his frequent ear and sinus infections. After hearing about swine flu last week, he checked his usual online sources and, aside from a few small doses of Relenza, found them wiped out. Walbrun considered talking to his underground contacts, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk—or the cost. “Tamiflu is like gold right now,” he says, adding that, in his experience, antiviral, antibacterial and other “useful” medications are difficult to find on the black market anyway.

With the World Health Organization warning countries to prepare for a possible swine-flu pandemic, that might change. When concerns about avian flu sent Tamiflu flying off the shelves in 2005, an illicit market for the drug quickly developed online—in one three-week span that year, Customs agents in San Francisco intercepted more than 50 packages of fake Tamiflu shipped by Asian suppliers to unsuspecting Internet buyers. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say they haven’t seen any counterfeit flu medications in the past year, but said in a statement to NEWSWEEK that they are “monitoring enforcement statistics” in light of recent swine-flu developments. And spammers are already active as well. According to Dave Marcus, director of security research at McAfee Inc., e-mails with subject lines that included “swine flu” accounted for 4 to 5 percent of all spam on Wednesday morning, up from 2 percent on Monday. “Before this weekend,” he says, “we never saw the words ‘swine’ and ‘flu’ together … The bad guys read the same news that you and I do.”

Goad explains that the unique nature of flu medications makes the market particularly vulnerable in situations like this one. Tamiflu and Relenza “never took off as a commercial product,” he says, because they are used by only a small percentage of the population for a few months each year. When panic strikes, “very few pharmacies have it [in stock]. They wouldn’t usually have it.” The U.S. government, which controls 25 percent of the country’s supply of flu medication, isn’t much help to would-be stockpilers: all the doses released by the Department of Homeland Security will go to public clinics and support teams, not private distributors. Faced with empty pharmacy shelves, Goad expects consumers to buy drugs wherever they can—and, once they find them, to buy as much as possible

But while the idea of collecting a private antiviral stash might be reassuring to some, public health experts say hoarding consumers likely won’t be better off than the rest of us and may, in fact, be doing more harm than good. Those who buy drugs from foreign sources run the risk of taking ineffective or possibly dangerous substances. Goad also warns that even those who get prescriptions ahead of time are likely to misdiagnose themselves later—mistaking a bad cold for the flu, for instance—and take drugs they don’t need. That can help existing strains of the flu virus develop resistance to commonly prescribed medications, which makes them more difficult to treat in the future. In a press briefing on Thursday, acting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Richard Besser acknowledged that the public is facing a “situation filled with uncertainty,” but told reporters that individuals should focus on controlling the spread of the virus with preventive measures such as hand-washing and limiting nonessential travel to Mexico.

When it comes to drugs that are always in short supply, like Tamiflu and Relenza, Goad emphasizes that it’s best to avoid alternative markets and to leave supplies available for those who, based on CDC guidelines, are most at risk for any type of flu: young children, the elderly, travelers and health-care personnel. Kelly Kimura, the flu sufferer in Hawaii who had an ordinary (non-swine) case, was able to take her prescription within the recommended 48-hour treatment period, but one swine-flu patient in New York City told NEWSWEEK she had to skip her dosage when she couldn’t find it in drugstores. With pharmaceutical companies Roche (Tamiflu) and GlaxoSmithKline (Relenza) ramping up production, and Cipla, an Indian company, promising 1.5 million doses of a generic drug in the next four to six weeks, the global market should be able to handle the next wave of swine-flu sufferers. Everyone else should take basic health precautions and resist the urge to run to the doctor’s office. For now, “just in case” just doesn’t cut it.


Hawaii Congressman Neil Abercrombie on Earth Day

Today is Earth Day and Hawaii Congressman Neil Abercrombie shares his message to the residents of Hawaii.  The statistics were provided by Energy Industries from my Energy Efficiency presentation a few months back.

April 2009
Save Money (and the Earth) on Earth Day

Dear Friends,

Although energy prices have stabilized and gas is cheaper for the moment, energy prices will start increasing as soon as the economy starts to recover. Thus, it’s important that Hawaii move off imported oil as fast as possible. In the words of President Obama, “The cheapest, cleanest, fastest energy source is Energy Efficiency.”

There are decisions we can make to protect the environment and reduce energy consumption, such as buying more efficient appliances (look for the Energy Star logo), cars and homes.

But, many of these decisions require significant financial investment. Fortunately, there are also some decisions we can make that don’t require huge investments, and they’re a great way to commemorate Earth Day 2009:

Your car — 80% of us drive to work alone. Telecommuting can save you $750/year. Carpooling can save you $400/year. Maintaining you car and keeping your tires properly inflated can save you $150/year. Eliminating extra weight in your car or removing that luggage rack means you use less gas and can save $30-50/year. Not using air conditioning when traveling slower than 45 mph saves $200/year. In general, heavy braking and accelerating use more energy.

Cooling your home — Using air conditioning six hours every day will cost you about $800/year. Increasing the room temperature by just three degrees can save you $100/year. Or, switch to a ceiling fan which can run for eight hours a day at a cost of $84/year, a dramatic savings. Tint your windows. If you do use air conditioning, make sure your unit is in the shade; clean the filter and vents regularly; and use kitchen, bath or other ventilation fans wisely. In just one hour, these fans can get rid of a houseful of warm air.

Washing/Drying Clothes — Washing a load of clothes in hot water costs four times as much as in cold water. Washing four loads of laundry a week in cold water would save $120/year. Drying four loads of laundry a week will cost about $225, but hanging laundry to dry just half the time can save more than $100 over a year.

Appliances and Electrical Devices — Leaving a computer and monitor on standby 24 hours a day costs about $200/year. You can activate sleep features on computers and office equipment that power down when not used for a certain time period. You can also use power strips to conveniently turn off devices and eliminate phantom energy loads. Phantom plug loads cost families $90/year. Americans spend more than $2 billion annually on phantom energy.

The data for these numbers were provided by Hawaiian Electric and the EPA Energy Star Program, and the calculations were done by Energy Industries using basic assumptions, so there will be variation among families in Hawaii, but they give you a rough idea of what you can save every day.

The 39th Earth Day will be on Wednesday, April 22nd. As we go about our daily lives, we can all make choices to consume less energy, save money and make a big difference for our island home.

Darren to speak at Emerging Growth Conference April 21, 2009


Investor Conferences

America’s investor conferences feature unique, interview-style management presentations, topically relevant panel discussions, traditional company presentations and one-on-one investor meetings. Each event not only provides a platform for leading public and private companies to share their stories with institutional and private equity investors, but also promotes the exchange of ideas and a discussion of market and competitive trends amongst all attendees. Our events include highly-focused symposiums that offer in-depth examinations of a particular sector or sub-sector as well as more all encompassing conferences that provide investors with insights across a broad range of the emerging growth spectrum.

Social Events

The team at America’s Growth Capital believes in working hard but having fun at the same time. Throughout the year, the firm hosts a number of social events to bring together the entire network of America’s employees, clients, families and friends. These outings include informal get-togethers at restaurants or sporting events, private movie screenings, softball games, and day-long competitions between large numbers of organizations. In the end, however, it comes back to one thing: fun.

AGC’s 5th Annual InfoSec and West Coast Emerging Growth Conference

AGC is hosting its 5th Annual Information Security and West Coast Emerging Growth Conference on Monday, April 20th and Tuesday, April 21st in San Francisco.

The agenda for Monday the 20th will focus on the information security sector and serves as a kick-off for the week-long RSA Conference. The agenda for Tuesday the 21st will focus on the other hottest sectors and companies in emerging growth, including clean tech, digital media/Internet, software, semis, comms, data center, FinTech and business services. The programs will include thought-provoking keynote addresses by industry leaders, panel discussions on the most relevant topics of the day and company presentations delivered by executives of leading public and private emerging growth companies. Companies confirmed to date include Cisco, EMC/RSA, Juniper Networks, Microsoft and Oracle, among others. (Click here for the lists of participating companies, panel themes and keynote addresses for each day.) This is an invitation only event. To request an invitation to attend, please click here.

To view the agenda for day 1, click here.

To view the agenda for day 2, click here.

Sopogy joins a short and select group of private solar companies presenting at the 2009 Emerging Growth Conference.

Darren T. Kimura will discuss the current state of concentrating solar and how Sopogy is bringing its fast installation, low cost, distributed energy solution to the market.

Hosted by America’s Growth Capital, a research, trading and investment banking firm, the AGC Emerging Growth Conference will feature leading public and private executives for a 2 day-long program of panel discussions, management presentations and keynote addresses.

About Sopogy
Sopogy specializes in MicroCSP solar technologies that bring the economics of large solar energy systems to the industrial, commercial and utility sectors in a smaller, robust and more cost effective package. Sopogy’s goals include to create solar solutions that improve the quality of life for all human kind and to bring order and simplicity to the chaos which is the current solar power business. Please visit www.sopogy.com for more information.