The Appalling Tactics of Corporate Drug Dealers


Compiled by Carol Hanisch

Anyone who pays attention to the news knows that the U.S. has a drug problem and it’s not just coming from street dealers. There have been a spate of articles about Big Pharma and its complicity in getting Americans hooked on OxyContin and other “legal” opioids. But the devious tactics of these corporate drug dealers aren’t new and they didn’t start with painkillers.

An informative article entitled “How Slick Consulting Firms Get Us on Drugs” by investigative health reporter Martha Rosenberg was recently posted on CounterPunch. It concludes: “McKinsey & Company’s “turbocharging” of opioid sales is just the tip of the iceberg. Most blockbuster drugs have been turbocharged in the same way.”

One of our readers, Jane Everhart, a journalist who has worked as a reporter/editor for a number of medical and pharmaceutical magazines, wrote recently on a feminist list in response to the article:

This is an interesting article and goes into how pharmaceutical drugs are professionally and creatively merchandised in order to sell more drugs.

Sisters, pharmaceutical drug companies should NOT be trying to grow their markets. Drugs are supposed to cure illness. To forcibly expand the market for them means creating more illness—or, worse, slyly encouraging misdiagnosis and what they call “off label use.”

A comparison would be if the manufacturer who produced machinery that digs people out of mud slides and avalanches did things to instigate more mud slides and avalanches so they could sell more machinery.

I have long mulled over the thought that capitalism is an economic system that involves the killing of consumers for profit.

Think about it: pesticides, bad drugs, unsafe vehicles, drugged farm animals, downer cows, poisoned fish streams—these all kill consumers. And all of them are done, or are short cuts taken, to increase profits for the capitalist.

So capitalism first tries to kill you, then sells you the medicine that may (or may not) keep you from dying, then waits for your addiction to that drug, and after they’ve milked all the profit they can from your buying and consuming that drug for years, you die. Ironically, they take credit for keeping you (barely) alive all those years.

I am particularly concerned about the big 3 schizophrenia drugs—Zyprexa, Risperdal and Seroquel—which have terrible (permanent) side effects and which are now starting to be prescribed off-label for other conditions. I recently read about a child having Risperdal added to Ritalin for his alleged ADHD. 

What are those parents thinking????

Worse, what is the prescribing doctor thinking?They cavalierly prescribe these chemicals for other people’s children so it can’t be said that they didn’t “do everything possible.”

I’m waiting to see the medication cocktail that the toxicology reports come up with for the latest victim, Saoirese Kennedy Hill.

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Big Pharma claims the ridiculously and sometimes deadly high prices of drugs are necessary because of the expense of research and development. Yet as Alexander Zaitchik points out in a post at The Other 98%, “Taxpayers — not Big Pharma — have funded the research behind every new drug since 2010”.

[E]ach of the 210 medicines approved for market came out of research supported by the NIH. Of the $100 billion it spent nationally during this period, more than half of it — $64 billion — ended up helping the development of 84 first-in-class drugs.

But the NIH doesn’t get to use the profits from these drugs to fund more research, the way it might under a model based on developing needed drugs and curing the sick, as opposed to serving Wall Street. Instead, publicly funded labs conduct years of basic research to get to a breakthrough, which is then snatched up, tweaked, and patented (privatized) by companies who turn around and reap billions with 1,000-times-cost mark-ups on drugs developed with taxpayer money.

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Big Pharma executives also chose which diseases are worthy of drug development based on the outlook for their bottom line, not on human need. In  “The Pharmaceutical Industry in Contemporary Capitalism”, an article based on his new Monthly Review book, Health Care Under the Knife: Moving Beyond Capitalism for Our Health, professor and public health activist Howard Waitzkin writes:

Until a few years ago, the pharmaceutical industry operated on what is known as a blockbuster model. The industry targeted drug development for chronic diseases that were common in developed countries, such as heart disease or diabetes, and then heavily marketed those drugs in the hope of reaching $1 billion annually in sales. Diseases that occurred predominantly or exclusively in developing countries were largely ignored, because the people affected had no meaningful purchasing power. Of 850 new therapeutic products marketed between 2000 and 2011, only 37 (4 percent) were indicated for those types of diseases.

Recently, since all the easy targets are exhausted, there has been a shift away from the blockbuster model to the “nichebuster” model, whereby corporations target small therapeutic markets with drugs that they can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars per year per patient. … In the United States, the cost of disease-modifying drugs for multiple sclerosis has gone from an average of $8,000 to $11,000 per year in the early to mid-1990s to $60,000 annually. In 2013, 120 cancer specialists from more than fifteen countries came together to denounce prices for new oncology drugs that had reached $100,000 or more annually. The idea that these prices were justified by the cost of R&D should be put to rest…. Prices are based on what the market will bear. The more desperate patients become, the higher the price they are willing to pay.

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Calling the U.S. government “the biggest venture capitalists in the world”,  BridgeUSA founder Roge Karma challenges the widely held myth that private companies, like those making up Big Pharma, are the major innovators behind American problem solving. Citing a clarifying exchange between Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–NY) and Harvard Medical Professor Aaron Kesselheim

Karma writes in The American Prospect:

This argument rests on a story of an American economy driven primarily by genius entrepreneurs, corporate risk takers, and private innovators who could solve our society’s most pressing problems if government just got off their backs. Typically, progressives have found themselves responding to this story in two ways: they ignore it and focus on inequality, or they reaffirm it and assure the public that private innovation will continue to flourish under progressive leaders.

But the fact that some of the world’s most innovative companies are American is not because of low taxes or loose regulations. It is because America is home to the biggest venture capitalist in the world: the U.S. government. The taxpayers who fund these innovations should be compensated accordingly. …

While the public is supposed to retain some of these benefits by taxing these profits, many corporations pay no taxes at all, others have historically paid a significantly reduced rate, and in the wake of President Trump’s tax cuts the amount of corporate taxes collected by the U.S. government has plunged to a near-record low. 

Far from a rising tide that lifts all boats, the American economy resembles a rising tide that crushes most boats, while a few lucky boats cruise to safety using the advanced navigation technology that all of the other boats paid to develop.

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Working people are the real innovators and financiers through our taxes and our purchases of whatever success this country achieves. It’s our work and money that make these powerful companies profitable and pays the bloated salaries of their CEOs and stockholders. It’s past time that we demand our due. To do that, we’ll have to stop relying on lawyers, business people, overpaid labor officials, and other one percenters to indirectly represent us and instead chose governmental representatives from among ourselves.

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Consumer activist Ralph Nader reminds us that some limited reforms can be accomplished when people bring pressure:

The Big Pharma lobby doesn’t always get what it craves. In the 1970s, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, produced two paperbacks for a wide television audience (e.g. he appeared on the Phil Donahue Show). They were titled, Pills That Don’t Work and Over-the-Counter Pills that Don’t Work. Because of Dr. Wolfe’s tireless efforts, hundreds of different pills were removed from the market, saving consumers billions of dollars and sparing them the side effects.

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