Americans are going without necessary drugs to fight major aliments like cancer with no alternative available according to a new report, while pharmaceutical companies play with a new business model that emphasizes profitability. Lipitor was the culprit when it went generic and its maker, Pfizer, was faced with losing the $13 billion in annual revenue. The current model of betting on everyday afflictions required high priced screening programs that took up to 15 years to reach success, and requiring enormous facilities and numbers of people.
Not sure what was wrong with the old model since over the last 20 years, drug companies have been the world’s most profitable. Pfizer, itself, is ranked 21st in the Fortune 500 with sales of $8.257 billion in 2010; Johnson & Johnson was 9th; Eli Lilly was 29th; Abbott Laboratories was 33rd. But Scott Gottlieb writing in the Wall Street Journal says, “There’s something unanticipated in drug research that can’t be industrialized.” The new focus of drug makers are the more serious conditions such as cancer and Alzheimer’s.
|Pharma pushing drugs|
The same report says that if pharmaceutical companies were forced to report potential shortages to the FDA in a timely manner, the agency could find alternatives to deal with the issue. Like the situation 61-year-old Renee Mosier faced with her ovarian cancer this past June. She needed the drug Doxil, which has no generic equivalent, and has not been available for several months. It is a life and death thing for Mosier, particularly since this is a recurrence of her cancer. Currently there is no legislation requiring the reporting of shortages.
But the above isn’t even the worst of a pharmaceutical industry gone bonkers. Ever hear of disease mongering? It’s a term that’s been around 20 years and refers to the way drug companies promote their blockbuster drugs to those who are “sick.” Lynn Payer, author of Disease-Mongers: How Doctors, Drug Companies, and Insurers Are Making You Feel Sick, lists four disease mongering tactics:
- taking a normal function and implying that it is potentially dangerous and should be treated, preferably for a long time
- taking a common symptom that could mean anything and making it sound as if it is a sign of a serious disease
- saying that a large percentage of the population might be suffering from the “disease”
- recruiting doctors to spread the message
To me the last one is the most alarming, assuming some docs would recommend a drug just because the salesman is pushing it because the company wants to promote it at all costs. And Dr. Andrew Weil adds yet another contrivance: allocating a clinical-sounding name to what is really an everyday malady like heartburn, which becomes “gastro-esophageal reflux disease or GERD.” In the article done by David Wallechinsky, he says, “Aggressive and creative marketing has permitted drug manufacturers to convince millions of people they have a problem that requires treatment and medication.” Like depression.
But when depression became passé, pharmaceutical companies switched to adult ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). ADHD cases skyrocketed; doubling, even tripling among important age groups 20 to 44 and 45 to 65. Disease mongering has also led to “cooked up” diseases like female sexual dysfunction leading over 60 percent of women to think they had it. Pfizer even tried promoting Viagra to women until it was proven it was no more effective than a placebo.
Wallechinsky adds, “Sometimes, the therapy being pushed can be more harmful than the condition it’s supposed to treat.” Like exploiting rheumatoid arthritis with immune suppressors such as Remicade, Enbrel, and Humira. “Taking these, however, can ‘invite cancers, lethal infections, and activate TB [tuberculosis],’” according to Martha Rosenberg at AlterNet.
There’s more to be said about the shenanigans of large pharmaceutical companies like shady lobbying and how they use your personal data that I will cover in a later post. In the meantime, isn’t it nice to know that these big corporations have the consumer’s best interest at heart, and that we have the FDA to protect us if something happens? Yeah…right!