Big Pharma vs the People

I recently visited Morgantown, WV where 2,000 well-paying jobs are on the chopping block with dire implications for local people, public health, and even national security. The factory across the street from the University of West Virginia’s medical campus has produced generic drugs for six decades. Everything from penicillin to the thyroid meds, which I, like millions of other Americans, take every day.

If it’s personal for me, it’s even more so for Carla Shultz. She’s worked the night shift for 13 years, and this isn’t how she expected things to go at the largest and last generic drug manufacturer in the United States. Especially after Covid, when we as a nation learned a whole lot about the fragility of global supply chains, the high cost of monopoly medicine, and the dire health state of much of this nation’s people.

And yet, closure is exactly what Viatris, a new entity formed when Morgantown’s Mylan pharmaceuticals merged with an offshoot of Pfizer, plans to do at the end of July unless someone steps in.

Who could step in? West Virginia’s senior senator Joe Manchin could. But he hasn’t. Does it have anything to do with the fact that his daughter was a top executive at Mylan for close to two decades? The Biden administration could. They could invoke the Defense Production Act to keep essential generic production inside the United States. It hasn’t.

Biden’s silence mystifies everyone I met in Morgantown, from worker Carla to city council member Ixya Vega, who fears upwards of a $200 million loss to the local economy, to Joe Gouzd, the president of US Steelworkers local who represents over 800 of the workers. If Democrats want West Virginia votes, he says, silence is a strange way of getting them.

Viatris could, of course, do something else entirely. Sell the plant to the state or the city or its employees. Dana Brown of the Next System Project believes that saving the Morgantown plant and its generic drug manufacturing capacity is a vital public interest. But where’s the media? We were there alone.

The Democracy Collaborative with Public Citizen, Global Trade Watch, Our Revolution, and others have written to President Biden asking him to invoke the Defense Production Act.

You can find out more, and see our exclusive report on Morgantown, on our website. Check your local listings to find out when The Laura Flanders Show plays on a station near you.

Laura Flanders interviews forward-thinking people about the key questions of our time on The Laura Flanders Show, a nationally syndicated radio and television program also available as a podcast. A contributing writer to The Nation, Flanders is also the author of six books, including The New York Times best-seller, BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species.  She is the recipient of a 2019 Izzy Award for excellence in independent journalism, the Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award for advancing women’s and girls’ visibility in media and a 2020 Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship for her reporting and advocacy for public media.