How Much Influence Does Big Pharma Have On Your Safety?
Above photo: Martin Shkreli arrested in December, 2015 for securities fraud. From CNN Money.
Evil pharmaceutical companies bending blue-collar workers to their whim sounds like the stuff of a sci-fi novel, but more and more it’s becoming our reality.
At first, it was the actions of “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli that captured the public eye. If only a small part of the Big Pharma puzzle, Shkreli is a convenient poster boy for the arrogant actions of American drug manufacturers. But things are escalating quickly. To see just how deep the cracks run, you have to look closer.
Safe in Big Pharma’s Hands
There are many players in the American drug-making industry. However, the three biggest names are Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Merk & Co. In 2016 Johnson & Johnson generated roughly 72 billion dollars in revenue in 2016. Business is good.
Hypothetically, free-market economics should push drug companies to compete. The result? Better medicine at more affordable prices for Americans. However, it seems that organizations like the big three, that have become “too big to fail,” are starting to relish their untouchable status. Instead of protecting humankind from illness, they’re focused on the health of their own bottom line.
Take, for example, Bayer and Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Its anticoagulant Xarelto hit the market in 2011 without an antidote to reverse its blood-thinning effects, which led to over 20,000 lawsuits for internal bleeding. Instead of prioritizing public health, Janssen Pharmaceuticals continues to market the drug as a safe alternative to traditional blood-thinning medications.
Endorsing the Opioid Epidemic
You might be familiar with the popular position that our government introduced crack cocaine. That was the last self-inflicted epidemic America had to endure, and now we are suffering an Opioid crisis at the hands of big pharma.
Deaths from opioid overdose have been steadily increasing since around 2010 when drug manufacturers changed the formula for the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin to make it less lethal. But there was a problem.
Spurred on by incentives from big pharma, doctors had overprescribed OxyContin. Now, users who might otherwise be healthy were left needing an opioid fix. They looked to the streets. Heroin, and later fentanyl-laced heroin became the drug-of-choice for former pain pill addicts, leading to a tragic spike in overdoses.
Looking out for Their Own
The opioid example is just one case of how big pharma gets away with criminal acts. Multiple US states have sued Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, for their role in the heroin holocaust, but you wouldn’t know it on the surface. Drug makers just seem to keep on cruising.
For Johnson & Johnson, 2017 brought more lawsuits than ever before. The maker of everything from sunscreen to heart valves is probably behind several products you have in your home right now, but did you know that Johnson & Johnson faced 17 state and federal trials in 2017? Or that the number of claims pending against the company is over 100,000?
Amongst the claims are a case alleging that J&J talcum powder causes ovarian cancer and that a mesh implant for women causes pain. Cases against J&J go as far back as 2013, when a criminal investigation proved that J&J was promoting off-market use of its drug, Risperdal. Overall, J&J does not often see success in these cases — rather, the company just has enough money to keep buying itself more time. The plaintiff in the mesh implant case won an 11.1 million dollar award. The money doesn’t make up for the damage done, but it’s enough to encourage anyone who feels they’ve been wronged by big pharma to seek legal help.
But that is only the silver lining, because J&J appealed that case, as they do with nearly every case leveled against them. And many of the appeals are successful.
Cooking the Books
When you make 72 billion dollars a year, 17 cases with 11 million dollar awards barely makes a dent. Wonder why drug prices have gone up? Big pharma is baking in the price-to-play.
That’s not all they’re doing, either. The clinical trials you hear about, the same ones that are designed to determine whether a new drug is more potent than the one it replaces, or whether a drug is safe to use at all. Those are corrupt, too.
The National Institute of Health allocates a portion of its annual budget to clinical trials. In the past, drug makers could not fund independent clinical trials, which meant the NIH was behind almost all prominent trial studies.
However, in recent years this has changed. Private companies have started conducting their own trials and obfuscating their association with the work. In 2006, a study by The American Journal of Psychiatry revealed a trend that hadn’t yet reached its peak.
In an investigation of 32 head-to-head clinical trials, 90 percent of the trials resulted in favorable verdicts for whichever company had conceived and financed the clinical trial. Another study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health confirmed that with the rise of privately funded studies, NIH-sponsored reviews have gone down. The government has enabled drug companies to inherit the task of evaluating their own products.
In fact, pharmaceutical companies have been taking advantage of US laws as far back as the 1984 Price Competition Act. While it was intended to spur competition, large companies have used its “pay to delay” to keep generic drugs off the market. A piece of legislation called the 21st Century Cures Act actually made it easier for drugs to get FDA approval.
Even with the growing mountain of legal paperwork that these companies must be accruing, there are many Americans who have no idea this is going on. All it takes for them to be affected is an accident or illness. Do you think anyone who became addicted to OxyContin would have taken it had there been a warning of lethal overdose using heroin on the bottle?
That’s an extreme example, but it is ultimately grounded in fact. It’s a fact that companies are forcing drugs they can’t prove are safe onto the market, and a fact that big pharma has built a war chest for fighting legal battles against the people they are supposed to make well.
It’s not just inconvenient — it’s enough to make you sick.