FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Havoc of the Unrestrained Drug Industry

by

t is remarkable what very profitable drug companies—as they merge into fewer giant multinationals—continue to get away with by way of crony capitalism. Despite frequent exposure of misdeeds, the army of drug company lobbyists in Washington continues to gain political influence and rake in corporate welfare at the expense of taxpayers. The drug industry goes beyond crony capitalism when it then charges Americans the highest drug prices in the world.

Here is a short list of the honey pot produced by the lobbying muscle of the $300 billion a year pharmaceutical industry. It receives billions of dollars in tax credits for doing research and development that it should be doing anyway. Some companies reaped billions of dollars in revenues when they were granted exclusive rights to market a drug, such as Taxol, developed by the government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH). These corporations turn around and gouge patients without any price controls or royalties to NIH. (See http://keionline.org/ for more information.)

The pharmaceutical industry spends far more on marketing and advertising to physicians and patients than what it spends on research and development. More drug industry funds go to influencing politicians to prevent the implementation of price restraints on its staggering markups.

As Dr. Marcia Angell, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine wrote in her book, The Truth About the Drug Companies, “only a small fraction of its drugs are truly new; most are simply ‘me too’ variations on older drugs.” Dr. Angell charges that the industry is “primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefits, using its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the U.S. Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, academic medical centers and the medical profession itself.” By the way, the drug industry is required by law to fund a large portion of the FDA’s drug review budget, which contributes to this weak regulatory oversight.begging slogans5

Katharine Greider points out in her book The Big Fix: How the Pharmaceutical Industry Rips off American Consumers that, “Other countries move to control prices and sharply limit advertising.” This does not happen in the U.S. where many patients confront a “pay or die” system.

In recent years this stark choice has made headlines. New drugs, like Sovaldi for treating Hepatitis C, are costing consumers or taxpayers $84,000 for a full course of treatment or $1,000 a pill per day! The same drug treatment, according to the Washington Post, costs “$57,000 in Britain and just $900 in Egypt.” Other so-called “break-through” drugs are costing patients over $100,000 each a year and driving frantic health insurers and Medicaid managers up the wall.

Will competition bring prices down? Wall Street pharmaceutical analyst, Tim Anderson at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, explains that this is not the case in a recent New York Times article. “He said that drug companies, while not colluding, ‘have all looked at each other and said, ‘None of us needs to compete on price if we just hold the line.’ ” The cause of competition was not helped when the drug company lobbyists used their campaign contributions and influence on Congress in 2003 to brazenly prohibit Uncle Sam from negotiating prices for the gigantic Medicare drug benefit program.

The financial rip-offs aren’t the only problems with the out-of-control drug industry. Federal law requires all approved drugs to be both “safe and effective.” The actual record has been shocking. The Public Citizen Health Research Group published three books – Pills That Don’t Work (1981), Over The Counter Pills That Don’t Work (1983), and Worst Pills, Best Pills: A Consumer’s Guide to Avoiding Drug-Induced Death or Illness (2005) – documenting hundreds of prescription and over-the-counter drugs that were not effective for their advertised purposes or had harmful side effects. Wide exposure to these findings, especially on the Phil Donahue Show, helped get many of these so-called medicines off the market.

Over the years, the government has fined drug companies billions of dollars for pushing unapproved uses of drugs. More perilously, drugs get approved prematurely and result in mass sickness and fatalities. This human toll takes an estimated 100,000 deaths a year in the U.S. from adverse effects of such drugs. For example, the drug Vioxx, sold by Merck &Co., Inc., as an anti-inflammatory drug, stayed on the market from 1999 to 2004 despite documented cardiovascular risks. According to the well-regarded medical journal Lancet, an estimated 88,000 Americans had heart attacks from taking Vioxx and 38,000 of them died!

Bextra, sold by Pfizer, Inc., another anti-inflammatory analgesic drug was approved by the FDA in 2001, and was then removed in 2005 because of concerns about increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, as well as serious, sometimes fatal skin reactions.

Rezulin, made by Parke-Davis/Warner Lambert, was approved by the FDA in 1997 and withdrawn in 2000 because the drug caused liver toxicity, having been linked to 63 liver-failure deaths.

Meridia, a weight-loss drug sold by Abbott Laboratories, was withdrawn by the company after thirteen years of sales because studies demonstrated that it increased the risk of adverse cardiovascular episodes, such as heart attacks, strokes and cardiac arrest.

These illustrations come from Public Citizen’s Health Research Group whose newsletter Worst Pills, Best Pills News has been reliably reporting these avoidable tragedies for many years.

There are other human and economic costs of the drug industry’s relentless sales pressure. Antibiotic resistance has been building up for half a century due to massive overuse of antibiotics both in humans and in edible farm animals. As a result, there are now lethal infections for which existing antibiotics are ineffective. And, inadequate warning labels have led to the misprescription of drugs and the use of drug combinations that have dangerous interactions.

Congress used to regularly investigate the drug companies when Senators like Estes Kefauver (D-TN) and Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) were on Capitol Hill. Silence is now the norm. Even the drug company practice – to seek even more profits – of importing about eighty percent of the ingredients in our medicines from China and India, where public inspection regulations can be weak and the FDA has few inspectors, does not command the attention of our congressional representatives. About 100 Americans died in 2008 from a contaminated blood thinner called heparin imported from China.

So, next time you hear the talking heads from corporatist think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation or their corporate allies demand “de-regulation,” consider what an inadequately regulated drug industry has already inflicted on millions of Americans.

Ralph Nader’s latest book is: Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 24, 2016
John Pilger
Provoking Nuclear War by Media
Jonathan Cook
The Birth of Agro-Resistance in Palestine
Eric Draitser
Ajamu Baraka, “Uncle Tom,” and the Pathology of White Liberal Racism
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt and the New Financial Imperialism
Robert Fisk
The Sultan’s Hit List Grows, as Turkey Prepares to Enter Syria
Abubakar N. Kasim
What Did the Olympics Really Do for Humanity?
Renee Parsons
Obamacare Supporters Oppose ColoradoCare
Alycee Lane
The Trump Campaign: a White Revolt Against ‘Neoliberal Multiculturalism’
Edward Hunt
Maintaining U.S. Dominance in the Pacific
George Wuerthner
The Big Fish Kill on the Yellowstone
Jesse Jackson
Democrats Shouldn’t Get a Blank Check From Black Voters
Kent Paterson
Saving Southern New Mexico from the Next Big Flood
Arnold August
RIP Jean-Guy Allard: A Model for Progressive Journalists Working in the Capitalist System
August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
Norman Solomon
Clinton’s Transition Team: a Corporate Presidency Foretold
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Hubris: Only Tell the Rich for $5000 a Minute!
Russell Mokhiber
Save the Patients, Cut Off the Dick!
Steven M. Druker
The Deceptions of the GE Food Venture
Elliot Sperber
Clean, Green, Class War: Bill McKibben’s Shortsighted ‘War on Climate Change’
Binoy Kampmark
Claims of Exoneration: The Case of Slobodan Milošević
Walter Brasch
The Contradictions of Donald Trump
Michael Donnelly
Body Shaming Trump: Statue of Limitations
Weekend Edition
August 19, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Hillary and the War Party
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Prime Time Green
Andrew Levine
Hillary Goes With the Flow
Dave Lindorff
New York Times Shames Itself by Attacking Wikileaks’ Assange
Gary Leupp
Could a Russian-Led Coalition Defeat Hillary’s War Plans?
Conn Hallinan
Dangerous Seas: China and the USA
Joshua Frank
Richard Holbrooke and the Obama Doctrine
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail