Thursday, May 10, 2007

Big Pharma Big Industry

I am afraid of the established medical community as a whole. Yes, I know there are some that are very good and there are a lot that are barely adequate. What makes it most scary to me is this system is dealing with people’s lives, the quality of their lives, along with whether there is any quantity of time down the road for the people they treat. I have watched the medical community treat members of my family and friends – some better, some not so good, and some who have been left with long term deficits due to treatments that were perhaps not the best options.

Add to that the FDA, a regulatory agency that doesn’t do its job the way I would expect or hope it should. They are literally in bed with big pharma, and are run by political appointees that depending on the persuasion of the appointer (the decider?) are less or more competent, less or more ethical, less or more able.

I recognize that when dealing with something as complex as the human body, the chemical reactions and effects that can and do occur, along with the different reactions over time, age dependency, interactions, etc., that it is not an easy thing to regulate the drugs that are available or in use. However, I do have a real problem with remedies that have been in use for tens or hundreds of years, many even longer, being trashed and discounted in favor of much more dangerous options that are supported by big corporations, research that may or may not be accurate or skewed, pay-offs, and such. Just a note, don’t you think drugs like medical use of marijuana would be in wide usage, advertised and advocated, if the pharmaceutical companies could figure out a way to patent it and charge big bucks for it?

Yes, modern medicine has done some incredible things to preserve life, and my beef today is not with medicine as whole but with the pharmaceutical industry in specific. Many years ago I worked in the advertising department of a major pharma corporation. They have come up with some amazing drugs that have done a world of good, along with some that were not so good. I had some personal ethical issues working there since part of my job was to try to convince pharmacies, and doctors, to only prescribe / recommend / carry, their brand of drug exclusively. As noted before, the human body is very complex, what might be right for me may not be right for you, even if the cause of the problem is the same – so carrying or recommending only one of the many options out there could be detrimental, seriously so, to at least some of the target audience.

Then there is the cost of medications particularly prescription drugs that are still patent protected. Yes, I understand that the cost of years of research has to be recouped by the company, but why must we also pay for things like glossy logos and packaging, after all, the drug is what it is, the audience is an industry professional, why should the “presentation” be important? How much could we save if the medicines were packaged in regular boxes, with the name and instructions on the bottle / box– most of them are going to be rebottled by the pharmacist anyway, right?

And how about advertising… I wonder how much a 30 second ad costs during the evening news? We are either grossed out and scared to death during dinner hour by the various and sundry possible side effects (this drug is to make you sleep, and one possible side effect is sleepiness - Duh!) then they tell us to take their drug implying the potential pitfalls are irrelevant while green fields roll by and music swells; or we are told to go ask our doctor if drug X is right for us, even though we have no clue from the ad what Drug X was developed to do? Maybe I’m old fashioned but I think drug companies should convince the doctors through hard scientific evidence along with anecdotal experience that theirs is a good option – it’s not my job or place to call up and say “Hey I just saw an ad for Viagra – I’m a woman is that right for me??”

I wonder how many people are taking drugs they don’t need and perhaps shouldn’t have, because of some advertising campaign that caused them to push their doctor or even suggest that they want it, and voila… they have the drug – the company gets richer, the insurance rates go higher, and someone is polluting their system with something they likely should not take, and probably don’t need. How much less expensive might our drugs be if the advertising fees didn’t have to be paid because they weren’t allowed to advertise? Maybe free market could take over and pharmaceutical companies would have to charge what was fair because there is competition out there!

What sparked this rant tonight is an article I saw in the NY Times yesterday. The knowledge of this practice is not new, but I guess over time I let the outrage of it slip into the far recesses of my mind. Here’s the pertinent quote from the article:

“Two of the world’s largest drug companies are paying hundreds of millions of dollars to doctors every year in return for giving their patients anemia medicines, which regulators now say may be unsafe at commonly used doses.”

According to this article, “a group of six cancer doctors received $2.7 million from Amgen for prescribing $9 million worth of its drugs last year.” Am I the only one who thinks that’s obscene?? That pay-off is 30% of their income for prescribing this one drug, and that doesn’t count the cost of the drug itself charged to the patient and insurance company! And we wonder why health insurance costs are going through the roof. We wonder why some people have to decide if they will die by lack of a medication they can’t afford or by malnutrition because the grocery money went to the meds.

I no longer wonder why I continue to feel like Peter Finch in Network – with this overwhelming desire to go out on a balcony and shout that I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore! What stops me is the sure knowledge that no one with any power to stop it would really care, though they might start pushing a drug to me that they are sure would help . . .


brownie said...

The drug companies scare me too. I took my elderly mother to a medical appointment the other day, and we were there a total of about an hour and a half. In that time, I witnessed at least a dozen drug company represntatives pass by me. They went about their business none too discretely, with their company's logos emblazened on their bags of goodies they so eagerly peddled in front of the patients.

They became easy to spot, most were tall, white, male, with a dishonest smile and a condescending lilt in their voice.

I felt another real chill in this darkening place I call my homeland. And I don't know how much colder we can stand to get. Maybe I should be thankful for global warming (sigh).

Anonymous said...

It goes as deep -- and deeper -- than you say.

They just tried -- AGAIN -- to F up our accces to supplements and herbs. Lost again, but the repeated efforts are chilling.

FDA, the same agency that allows Asspartame (thanks, Donald Rumsfeld! (yes, really!)), and melamine, and mercury in our fillings, vaccines, and contact lens fluid is supposed to track our supplements now? NO THANKS.

With the USDA screwing up our soil and bees, and the FDA mucking up our supplements, I don't see us getting healthier and richer...I see us getting sicker and Sicker and SICKER and poorer in the process.

With tomatoes (even 'vanilla' USDA so-called 'organic' tomatoes) at $5 a lb...and so on across many lines of produce...i recommend we all start the process of

1) Getting into a local CSA

2) Reading up on soil and
agriculture (recommend Acres USA
as a good journal)

3) developing increasing food self-
reliance (grow your own non-
irradiated herbs; get some non-
cloned/GMO'ed chickens if
you're lucky enough to have the

4) Eat low on the processing chain
to avoid "helpful" chemicals
and "NATURAL FLAVORS" (you want
a nauseous thrill? look *that*
phrase up in the FDA
regulations. you'll be stunned
what it means...)

5) Paying attention to minerals.
Get a good supplement. Our
soils are near dead, being used
more to pump in oil-based
fertilizer for close to 80
years, they get more screwing
than a army base whore, and
have lost nearly all their
mineral content. We need
sulfur.... selenium...
calcium... magnesium...
boron... and more to survive
and thrive.

Another Boiling Frog,


EvilChime said...

Brownie I hear you :(. The good looking white bread female is very common in the industry as well - and these reps are VERY well paid. I think education and information are very important because doctors don't always have time to be aware of all the latest studies and developments out there - but there is a difference between informing and incentivizing (I must bet listening to politicians too much [G]).
There should also be a way of notifying doctors of new developments re the safety of a drug. I was given an antibiotic last winter that worked REALLY fast, like one dose and I could feel the difference. I mentioned the name to my sister and was pointed to an article that day about this particular drug causing liver damage as a possible side effect! FDA has NOW changed its recommended scope - but when I mentioned it to my doctor he had trouble getting information about it - though he did give me another prescription for something more known.