Drug Companies have gotten way out of hand. Their litany of excesses and abuses is growing dangerously long, and the billions of dollars they pump into the American system of government is giving them free reign to do so.
Originally published 2004
For years now, I’ve seen cheap afternoon advertising from lawyers saying things like this:
Did you take brand X drug?
If so, call now to take part in a class-action lawsuit
for the deaths and bodily harm it caused.
Once or twice you could understand. But every single day? Sometimes two or three different drugs a day, with the cast of characters changing every few weeks. For years.
Then, come evening, prime time advertising would include an expensive, high-polished advertisement for brand Y . Five years later, that drug would be the subject of less expensive afternoon- and middle-of-the-night advertising.
Now there’s Paxil. It was supposed to be a treatment for depression. But many teenagers killed themselves within days of taking it. It seems it pushed them over the edge — and it did so in a statistically significant percentage of cases that the drug companies never saw fit to report.
Then there was the fact that drug was clearly addictive. Attempts to get off the drug caused shooting pains in the skull, like an electrical spark shooting up the back of the neck, straight to the brain. The drug companies reported a two percent occurrence in their summaries — but the actual studies showed a sixty-two percent occurrence.
That’s not the first time that drug companies have suppressed negative results from their studies. It has been happening a lot — which was the subject of another news reports a few weeks ago.
For example, the information they originally gave to doctors didn’t even include any mention of Paxil’s withdrawl problems. They coached their salesmen not to mention it, and to call it a mild “discontinuation effect”, if asked.
Which brings us to the question: Why are drug companies allowed to market prescription drugs at all? If they’re so good, why are they selling them to doctors? And what arrangements are they making to sell them? Are there doctors who are profiting from this arrangement? How exactly does that benefit patients?
Nor is Paxil alone. A recent broadcast mentioned that another well-advertised prescription pain-reliever for arthritis (Celebrex) was tested to see if had any effect on preventing cancer. It was found that the incidence of heart attack increased by 2-1/2 times, and the study was discontinued.
Somehow, that salient fact never made it into any of the reports—but then, there is a mounting tide of evidence that the drug companies only allow favorable reports to be printed.
But perhaps an even more important question is this: Why are drug companies allowed to advertise prescription drugs to the general public? The question really has two parts: why do they advertise, and why are they allowed to?
Why Do they Advertise?
First, why do the advertise? If it’s a prescription drug, only a doctor can prescribe it. The doctor is supposed to know when to prescribe it. So what’s the point of advertising to patients?
As someone who has a small amount of experience in the field of marketing, I can tell you: pull-through. Pull-through marketing is what you do to create buyers, in order to convince distributors that they should carry your product. Let’s say you make tires. You want tire dealers to carry them. But their shelves are stocked with Michelens and Uniroyals. Why should they carry yours?
The answer is pull-through marketing. You do a lot of advertising to customers to create awareness of your brand of tires. Then when they go into the tire dealer’s showroom, they’re interested in buying that tire. So you advertise the tire, not because you’re selling it to the customer, but because you’re selling it to the distributor.
But the other half of the equation is profit. Tire distributors make a profit on each tire they sell. It’s that profit, combined with customer demand (created by pull-through marketing) that makes them decide to carry a tire.
We know that drug companies are engaging in expensive, pull-through marketing. The question is, how much are doctors benefiting from the arrangement? After all, if an ad for allergy-relief medicine takes a person to a doctor’s office, the doctor could always recommend something else. So how much are they getting to prescribe the advertised drug?
How Can they Advertise?
Then there is the question of why drug companies are even allowed to advertise. The answer, in a word, is “free speech”. In the last 80 years, the fiction that a corporation is a legal “person” has been gradually established in our courts, by highly paid lawyers who are working for those corporations.
Because we only have one standard, we can’t limit speech for corporations without also limiting it for individuals. We want to preserve individual liberties, so we continue to allow corporations to engage in such obnoxious behaviors, “as part of the price we pay”.
Clearly, what we really need to do is to establish the fact that there are two separate sets of rules — one for corporations and one for individuals. Once we make that separation, we can create whatever rules are in the best interests of society — favoring corporations in some instances and restricting them in others, but always with the interests of our citizens at heart.
Treatments and Cures
Then there is the fact that drug companies would much rather treat a chronic disease, than cure it. The best diseases of all are those that don’t kill the patient, but that create problems the patient would rather live without: allergies, skin conditions, and the like. Are drug companies investing in the basic research needed to understand and eliminate those conditions? Not on your life. They’re investing in things that will control the condition, so you’ll continue taking their drugs for the rest of your days.
Dr. Perricone was on public-broadcasting TV (PBS) recently. He described a variety of topical nutrients that work when applied to the skin — as opposed to steroid drugs, which thin the skin. The problem with thinning skin, of course, is that it leads to a variety of other problems, like rosacea. But drug companies aren’t out there advertising topical nutrients. No profit. They continue to market the steroids.
Side effects like thinning skin aren’t a problem for drug companies, though. When your original problem has gone away, they’ll happily sell you other drugs for the rest of your life to control the rosacea or other problems you developed as a result of their “cure”.
For example, they’re still telling doctors to treat with poison oak/poison ivy with steroid drugs, rather than a simple soap (Tecnu). That soap is available in any drug store, and it completely solves the problem. But there are no ludricous profits to be made from selling soap. Prescription drugs, on the other hand — that’s another matter.
At times then, drug companies promote and sell drug that create chronic conditions — even when better remedies are available. But the truly effective remedies don’t make as much money, so they aren’t promoted as heavily. It’s a vicious cycle, and patients are paying the price.
Drug Companies in Government
The Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) is supposed to be our guard against all this. But last week an FDA insider sat in front of a congressional hearing and testified that the FDA is all but impotent. It’s run by people who, when they resign from the FDA, get very high paying jobs with the drug companies. Sometimes, they go back to work for the FDA, after which they get an even higher paying job with a drug company.
But FDA officials aren’t the only dupes. Even our legislators are conned. Take the recent drug bill. That was supposed to lower drug prices. But guess who wrote it? It was drug company lobbyists. The fact is, lobbyists and the corporations they represent write most of the legislation that gets presented to Congress. The fact is, they have the time and resources to do so. So guess who the legislation favors? One guess. (It ain’t you and me, pal.)
So what did our beneficit drug companies write into that drug bill? They wrote that the government is not allowed to negotiate for lower prices. Meanwhile, it’s illegal to import the drugs from Canada — even when they are the very same drugs as those sold here, manufactured in the same facilities, but selling for 10 times less over the border.
Clearly, drug companies have much too much to do with our political system. We have to put a stop to it. But addressing that single issue is to overlook many other ways in which corporations have too much say in Washington. To eliminate these problems, we must get the money out of politics.
Copyright © 2004-2017, TreeLight PenWorks