BY : SANDRA O’HARE
With the rapidly rising cost of prescriptions and the long list of side effects of most drugs, it should come as no surprise that it is not exactly big pharma’s top priority to consider what is in the patient’s best interest. What you might not realize, though, is that the government plays a large role in helping big pharma take advantage of people.
Here are nine things the government does not want you to know about big pharma:
In many other countries, there are limits to what drug companies can charge for medications. In the U.S., however, drug companies are allowed to create monopolies on specific drug types and charge ridiculous prices with no oversight whatsoever. Essentially, drug companies can blackmail sick people into paying astronomical prices for lifesaving medications because they have no other choice, except perhaps death.
In 1995, the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma obtained FDA approval for a pain reliever called OxyContin. Even though the drug was almost molecularly identical to heroin, the company claimed it was less addictive because it used a controlled release.
After just five years on the market, Purdue was making more than $1 billion annually from the sale of OxyContin. Eventually, it became obvious that OxyContin was just as dangerously addictive as heroin, and Purdue even admitted to misleading regulators, doctors and patients about the drug. Purdue paid just $600 million in fines for its crimes—a small portion of the profits the company made for exposing countless people to a dangerously addictive drug.
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In nearly every area of federal spending, federal laws require competitive bidding before choosing contractors and paying for goods or services. But pharmaceutical companies are allowed to sell monopolized drugs to the government via Medicaid and Medicare, as well as to consumers, at any price they choose, without competitive bidding.
The government has effectively outlawed competition among drug companies by making it illegal to import prescription drugs from other countries and by looking the other way as drug companies illegally collude to stop cheaper generic drugs from becoming available to consumers.
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At the center of everything that big pharma does, is profit. So, it’s not much of a surprise that much of the opposition to medical marijuana laws is fueled by big pharma. Research shows that in states where medical marijuana is legal, doctors prescribe far less medication for conditions such as pain, anxiety and sleep disorders.
When arguing against medical marijuana, pharmaceutical companies make claims that it’s against the public interest and the safety of children. In reality, what they are really doing is trying to protect their profits. In fact, many pharmaceutical companies are arguing against the benefits of marijuana even as they work to develop their own synthetic versions of the drug.
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We’ve all seen ads on television promoting prescription medications. And it’s no secret that most drug companies spend more money on marketing every year than they do on research and development of new drugs. But did you also know when some drug and device manufacturers can’t market their drug effectively on its own merits, they’ll make up the information they need to sell the product?
A Senate investigation into one medical device manufacturer found that favorable medical journal articles on studies about a company’s product were written by marketing employees, not doctors. The company then paid doctors millions of dollars in “consulting fees” to add their names to the articles for publication. This device went on to cause serious ongoing medical problems for many of the patients who used it.
We could certainly see this getting worse, too. With the recent change in regulations allowing ISPs to collect and sell browsing history, we can expect more targeted and specific advertisements. Unless you take steps to protect yourself from ISP data collection, searching for ways to relive pain caused by your condition could bring on an onslaught of big pharma advertising to sell you these dangerous and addicting drugs. You might be able to resist, but faced with the seemingly convincing evidence presented by these “studies,” many people could be tricked into buying a drug they most certainly do not need.
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In a recent study, researchers found that pharma reps visiting doctors only discussed extreme risks of medications in six percent of their visits. Yes, you read that right. Six percent.
There are laws in place in the U.S. that require pharmaceutical sales representatives to outline side effects, as well as benefits, of any drugs they are trying to sell to hospitals and physicians. However, no one monitors a sales rep’s meeting with a doctor, and there are no punishments or sanctions for providing inaccurate or misleading information about a drug to a physician, even if it were to lead to a patient’s death.
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Drug companies conduct their own clinical trials for drugs, or they hire an outside company to conduct the trial for them. But even then, the company knows who is paying the bill and what the expected outcome is. After all, there is usually billions of dollars at stake when a new drug is approved. However, there are no laws requiring drug companies to publish all the information they have about a particular drug. If a study doesn’t work out the way a company wants, they can simply throw it away and start over, conducting other studies until they get the results they need. They are never legally required to share the information contained in the failed studies with anyone, even if they didn’t make any changes to the drug’s formula.
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Many pharmaceutical companies tout their charitable donations and income-based price reductions when confronted with questions about over-priced medications. Pharmaceutical companies do often make contributions to co-pay charities, such as Patient Services Inc, a charity that helps low-income people with their prescription co-pays.
The reasons behind those donations, though, are less than charitable. A small donation to help with co-pays can encourage thousands of people to continue taking an expensive drug, the cost of which is mostly paid for by Medicare. Then, in addition to the revenue from the drug sales, the pharmaceutical company also receives tax deductions for the charitable contributions.
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One of the major purposes of the US Food and Drug Administration is to review the safety and efficacy of prescription medications before they’re made available to the public. However, one glaring problem with that system is that federal regulators at the FDA are not prohibited from taking jobs at pharmaceutical companies after they issue approval for drugs.
For years, consumer advocacy groups have documented how government officials working at the FDA shifted over to highly paid roles at pharmaceutical companies after approving drugs created by those same companies. The question then becomes, are these regulators really basing their drug approvals on the science behind those medications, or on the possibility of lucrative jobs promised to them by the pharmaceutical companies?
It’s one thing when big business puts corporate profits ahead of people’s lives, but it’s another thing entirely when the government actually helps them do it. It’s time to get these shameful secrets and practices out into the open to bring awareness to these issues so that people can start demanding real change and safeguards for their health.