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Meltdown in the Drug Industry

Think you’ve got problems? Imagine being a 40K a year tuition college student catapulting toward graduation with no hot job offers or even prospects!

Once upon a time you could rely on pharma when all else failed for a decent starting job — even if you did have to live in New Jersey.

Not anymore. Pharma is melting down like Wall Street–and for the same reasons.

Toxic assets? Unsafe drugs. Ponzi schemes? Safety studies that were there were never there to begin with. Indecent profits footed by taxpayers? Medicaid fraud and “patent drugs.” Mayday mergers? Pfizer/Wyeth; Merck/Schering-Plough. New “business models”? Biologics and vaccines.

In fact while the nation gasps at AIG and Freddie losses, pharma is running a strong second with Merck paying out $4.85 billion for Vioxx, Pfizer $2.3 billion for Bextra (and $430 million for Neurontin) and Lilly $1.4 billion for Zyprexa.

After this month’s Wyeth v. Levine Supreme Court ruling, settlements over fen phen, Baycol, Vytorin, Ketek, Avandia, Bextra, Celebrex, Prempro, Premarin, Zyprexa, Risperdal, Seroquel, Lexapro, Celexa, Cymbalta, Fosamax, Boniva, Effexor, Lyrica, Geodon, (pant, pant), Ablify, Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Chantix, Singulair, Ambien and Trovan should be forthcoming.

Of course you can blame the Bush Administration’s FDA packed with industry vets who waved their buddies’ new drugs through after six week trials for the iffy drugs on the market. You can blame ghostwriters, “bought” doctors and direct to consumer disease advertising for getting them in medicine cabinets and on formularies.

But it’s the public that asks itself, do I have Restless Legs Syndrome, Social Phobia, Fibromyalgia and Nonrestful Sleep? (see no money down; no doc; no income verification home mortgages.)

Still, the days when pharma reps would drive up to the state mental hospital and just ask for the order — like the Pfizer reps who made over 200 visits to Western State Hospital in Tacoma, WA in four years where 118 prescriptions of controversial Geodon are written a day–are over.

Gone are the days when reps could just slide by the nursing home to see how their Seroquel, Risperdal and Zyprexa scripts were doing — elderly warning label notwithstanding — or collect their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder veteran “dividend” from psychoactive drugs for combat and after combat.

Gone are the antipsychotic and SSRI “deficiencies” of the poor, mentally challenged and children on Medicaid now that the drugs are causing diabetes and the states are suing.

Few third party payers and benefits managers are falling for the patent drug two-step anymore including the — drum roll please – -Once A Week version and the Time Release version. And even pharma’s pork to universities — the embarrassing “continuing medical education” courses that “teach” doctors their sales pitch — are under the ethical microscope.

No, whereas, drug reps once had their own room at the doctor’s office to put up their pin striped pant legs and waltzed in in front of waiting patients, “No Drug Reps” signs now appear.

Just when the public was forgetting that Merck/Schering-Plough’s miracle cholesterol drug Vytorin was worthless and maybe harmful; that Merck’s bone drug Fosamax sometimes fractured the bones it was supposed to strengthen and causes esophagus cancer and osteonecrosis, just when people were forgetting that Wyeth’s hormone drug Prempro causes breast cancer, new subterfuge surfaces.

In February, New York-based Forest Laboratories was charged with illegally marketing antidepressants Celexa and Lexapro, burying a damning FDA study and paying Dr. Jeffrey Bostic, director of school psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, $750,000 a year to promote illegal pediatric drug uses in US District Court in Boston.

In March London-based AstraZeneca was charged with lying about atypical antipsychotic Seroquel’s diabetic side effects in US District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Orlando and disseminating research about Seroquel’s “safety” by two women who were having affairs with its US Medical Director for Seroquel, Dr. Wayne MacFadden.

Surprise! They are looking for jobs too.

MARTHA ROSENBERG is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. She can be reached at: mrosenberg@evmark.org

 

 

 

 

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Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

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