In 2016, the pharmaceutical industry earned profits of more than 202 billion on revenues of $1.1 trillion. That is a profit margin of more than 18%. No other industry has that large of a profit margin.
There is no question we need prescription medication. When our health is on the line, shouldn’t it be ok for companies that protect that health to make a healthy profit?
But are these companies actually protecting our health, or leveraging our health for the sake of selling unsafe drugs? Consider the following examples:
The maker of the antidepressant Paxil was required to pay out $3 billion in fines for illegally persuading doctors to prescribe the drug to children and teenagers in spite of evidence that it was ineffective and could trigger suicidal thoughts in adolescents.
Two manufacturers of low testosterone therapy are facing thousands of lawsuits over false claims.
These are just two of the claims being made against Big Pharma.
Drug companies, however, always hide behind the discretion of doctors. We’ve all seen commercials for prescription drugs end with the phrase,“Ask your doctor if [drug name] is right for you.” And we all want trust and believe our doctors.
The problem is that drug companies are working overtime to influence our doctors in any way they can. Big Pharma spends about $4 billion a year in direct marketing, like commercials. It spends six times that, about $24 billion, marketing directly to doctors.
Such access allows drug representatives to deliver something even more influential to doctors. Drug companies compensate physicians who participate in their studies. Big Pharma hand picks the doctors who participate, designs the drug trials themselves, and often fails to report unfavorable results.
Many of the drugs being tested are simply a tweak on a drug Big Pharma can no longer market for huge profits. After 20 years, a drug patent expires, allowing other companies to sell a generic version for much cheaper. The response from Big Pharma is to tweak the drug’s chemical makeup just enough to gain a new patent.
Big Pharma is also spending large amounts of money influencing the standards of medical practice, redefining being ill as needing medicine.
Many feel the propensity to medicate is the driving force behind the ongoing opiate epidemic. Costing hundreds of thousands of lives at this point, the crisis began with the development of newer, more addictive painkillers, the sale of which went through the roof as the companies found a new profit center.
The good news is that our civil justice system is alive and well, holding Big Pharma to account for its profit-mongering practices. Law enforcement and local governments, whose resources have been stretched to the limit dealing with the opiate crisis, are bringing claims against Big Pharma for its role in the crisis. The goal, of course, is to deter such actions in the future by making it too expensive to continue to operate that way. The battle is joined!