Monday, October 1, 2007

Big Pharma Cartel

We received a lot of emails asking our opinion on how last week's Drug Reform Bill could have become so watered down before it was sent to Congress. One of the answers: media and advertising lobbyists who convinced a few members of the House (built, inpart, with Madison Avenue, Network and Cable dollars) that media profits were more important than the health and safety of Americans.

These lobbyists realized they could lose a huge cash cow if pharmaceutical direct-to-consumer ads were ever put up to a Congressional vote. The word inside the beltway is that network and cable media created a very expensive targeted campaign suggesting that any restriction on direct-to-consumer advertising would be a violation of Big Pharma's first amendment rights. They were successful because any limits on direct-to-consumer disappeared from the bill before it went to the house.

Considering the first amendment rights abuses the citizens of this country have tolerated in the past few years, this ad campaign would be funny - if it weren't so sad.

The rights of Big Pharma and the FDA to deceive Americans were preserved (but a few bipartisan elected officials did manage to protect the wording on the bill that holds Big Pharma legally responsible for unsafe drug deaths, and Big Pharma will now be required to make ALL of the clinical trial and drug reaction data collected available to the public vs. the creative writing versions that get published in peer-reviewed journals.

The Drug Reform Bill still allows Big Pharma to maintain its monopoly on U.S. drug prices, which are higher than the prices they charge in other countries. And believe it or not, Big Pharma also gets to keep 25% of the FDA drug approval investigators on their consulting payrolls forever, and they have five years to get that number down to 25%.

Hardly a great victory - but new bills will be written and there will always be wantabe congressional members waiting for our votes.

Let's cast those votes wisely!


Spencer Thornton, M.D. said...

I question the use of the term Cartel when referring to Pharmaceutical Companies. This implies deliberate price fixing on their part.

As I undestand it a Cartel is a trade agreement between manufacturers and suppliers whose purpose is to maintain prices at a high level and restrict competition.

Do you think American Pharmaceutical Companies are deliberately setting prices high so that competition is restricted?

Ellen Troyer, MT MA said...

A few courageous investigative medical reporters are now referring to the FDA as the godfather for the world's largest drug cartel - Big Pharma.

Big Pharma is a drug racket of immense proportion. Only a government organization with the power of the FDA would be so arrogant as to think that smart people don't see through the connection.

Just like crack, meth and heroin dealers, Big Pharma seeks to control the market for its own gain, and that means having their FDA godfather shut down any organization, or individual, that tries to purchase prescription drugs from sources outside the USA. Unfortunately, this includes seniors who live on social security and young families with innocent children who are way too often physically and mentally addicted to prescription drugs before they even celebrate their sixth or seventh birthdays.

John said...

The fact that FDA drug investigators are still allowed to be paid consultants to the drug industry should not be acceptable to any of us.

Where is the outrage that we need to hear from the mainstream medical community who took an oath to "Do No Harm?"

Sara b said...

Great point John! Something has to be done!!

Anonymous said...

I think prescription drugs are so expensive because pharmaceutical companies have to run so many tests. Also because they spend so much on experiments its hard to find a drug that works. So when they finally do it cost that company a lot of money. I don't think it has anything to do with competition. Pharmaceutical employees need to make a living too. Also they have to advertise to consumers so we are aware of what's out there. Its hard for doctors to know of every prescription drug on the market.

Anonymous said...

Ellen you have a very interesting argument. I hope something is done about this!

Ellen Troyer, MT MA said...

Anonomous, I appreciate that you may be young and a bit naive, but you really need to understand a few facts about the drug industry.

1) Research and development (R&D) is a relatively small part of the budgets of the big drug companies—it's dwarfed by their vast expenditures on marketing and administration. In fact, year after year, for over two decades, this industry has been far and away the most profitable in the United States.

2) The prices drug companies charge have little relationship to the costs of making the drugs and could be cut dramatically without coming anywhere close to threatening R&D.

3) The pharmaceutical industry is not especially innovative. As hard as it is to believe, only a handful of truly important drugs have been brought to market in recent years, and they were mostly based on taxpayer-funded research at academic institutions, small biotechnology companies, or the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The great majority of "new" drugs are not new at all but merely variations of older drugs already on the market. These are called "me-too" drugs. The idea is to grab a share of an established, lucrative market by producing something very similar to a top-selling drug. For instance, we now have six statins (Mevacor, Lipitor, Zocor, Pravachol, Lescol, and the newest, Crestor) on the market to lower cholesterol, all variants of the first.

4) Over the past two decades the pharmaceutical industry has moved very far from its original high purpose of discovering and producing useful new drugs. Now primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, this industry uses its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the FDA, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself. (Most of its marketing efforts are focused on influencing doctors, since they must write the prescriptions.)

These are but a few of the reasons that citizens need to know what is going on. The drug industry is taking us for a ride, and there will be no real reform without an aroused and determined public to make it happen.

Harry said...


Don't believe it when the pharmaceutical companies charging skyrocketing drug prices sugar coat your pain by claiming their price increases are needed for research and development.

That's bullshit!

And it could be your grandparents who end up eating dogfood because they have to choose between real food and drugs they've been told they can't live without.

The truth is high prices are linked to record-breaking drug company profits and enormous compensation for their top executives, who are making well over 10 million a year in salaries, and that does not include unexercised stock optionsm which can total over 100 million.

Burton said...

Give 'em hell Harry!