Big Pharma I

 By M.K. Styllinski

“No one should approach the temple of science with the soul of a money changer.”
– Thomas Browne, English doctor


In a recent report it was stated that: “young people in developing nations are at least twice as likely to feel happy about their lives than their richer counterparts.” The survey of over 5,400 young people in 14 countries aged 16 to 34 years showed that 43 percent of the youth were unhappy with their lot. The main source of sadness came from the US and the UK. [1] With the US having already lost billions of dollars in revenue due to rude immigration officials and visa delays it suggests that this is merely the tip of a psychological crisis. [2]

According to a major US report on mental health in 2000, one in five Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder each year and half the entire population have such disorders at some time in their lives. Mental illness, including suicide, is the number two cause of disability. [3] The report goes on to list a plethora of mental disorders with a fifth of all children showing signs and symptoms of diagnosable mental disorders in any given year; 5 percent suffering “extreme functional impairment” 15 percent of adults aged between 18 to 54 suffering from anxiety disorders; 7 percent battling mood disorders and just over 1 percent diagnosed with schizophrenia. Senior citizenship usually represents the onset of depression occurring mostly in the over 65’s. It is also the age group with the highest rate of suicide.

As Writer Jim Windolf posed a somewhat more abrasive question on this subject in an October 1997 issue of The New York Observer:

If you add up all the psychological ailments Americans complain of, the portrait that emerges is of a nation of basket-cases. Ten million suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Fourteen million are alcoholics. Fifteen million are pathologically socially anxious. Fifteen million are depressed. Three million suffer panic attacks. Ten million have Borderline Personality Disorder. Twelve million have ‘restless legs.’ Five million are obsessive/compulsive. Two million are manic-depressive. Ten million are addicted to sex.

“But give the experts a little time,” he quipped, “With another new quantifiable disorder or two, everybody in the country will be officially nuts.”

There are great numbers of honest, descent people who have become the technologically dispossessed whose jobs have been lost through labour-saving technologies and re-structured work places. Long-term reliance on technology has displaced vast numbers of blue-collar workers who have no skills to find other work taken by robotic efficiency and software streamlining. This has produced significant mental health problems in the unemployed. A spate of studies in the 1980s and 90s found distinct correlations between the rise in technological unemployment and “increased levels of depression and psychotic morbidity.”[4] One clinical psychologist whose patients include the “hard core” unemployed for up to and over fifteen years found “symptoms of pathology similar to dying patients.” As social commentator Jeremy Rifkin bluntly states: “The death of the Global labor force is being internalized by millions of workers who experience their own individual deaths, daily, at the hands of profit driven employers and a disinterested government.” [5]

big-pharmaThe answer to one in ten children in Europe suffering from depression is to give them more Prozac or to lock them up if they don’t fit into a particular diagnostic category. It may boost the exorbitant profits of pharmaceutical companies and that of their shareholders but it will only increase the mental health problems for youngsters. It doesn’t help that 46 percent of American adults can’t read well enough to understand the label on their prescription medicine for their own needs let alone the needs of their children. [6]

The European Medical Agency knows full well that this is a failure to find creative solutions and that such a product and many like it, are part of a class of drugs known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).  There is copious evidence suggesting that some SSRIs are associated with an increased risk of suicidal behaviour and thoughts. Yet, the profit margins demand that such inconvenient data disappears down the throats of a new generation of children as young as eight years old. [7]

The pharmaceutical industry is big business. In 2006, global spending on prescription drugs reached $643 billion with the United States taking $289 billion in annual sales – almost half of the global pharmaceutical market, followed by the EU and Japan. While China, Russia and Mexico represent the emerging challengers to American dominance growing by 81 percent in 2006. [8] According to the retail prescription drug sales census from 1995 to 2006 U.S., prescriptions have had a 61 percent increase at $3.4 billion a year.  Retail sales of prescription drugs have soared by 250 percent from $72 billion to $250 billion, with the average price of prescriptions doubling from $30 to $68. But are these massive profits justified?

Big Pharma has no problem standing by its exorbitant price hikes claiming that Research and Development (R&D) investments are costly and in order to push the envelope of innovation and ultimate success, therefore, expenditure is inevitable. The only wrinkle in this sales pitch is that it is standard PR nonsense that bears no relation to reality.  R&D takes up the smallest part of Big Pharma budgets where for more than thirty years the industry has been one of the most profitable in the United States coming in at third place behind the oil and banking industries. The R&D excuse for theses price hikes is merely a ruse to extract more profits from a gullible public. Even the innovation is stunningly pedestrian when one considers the billions of dollars created each year. The vast majority of “new” drugs are simply variations of previously marketed drugs re-packaged and redesigned with a big advertising fanfare to make them appear original and innovative. The hundreds of different shampoos on offer to the consumer would be a suitable comparison: they offer a bewildering array of choice yet largely do exactly the same thing. The only difference is that the drugs may not have been sufficiently tested and may exacerbate and extend the problem while inducing addiction and over-reliance. However, like most companies which become too big the occasional cases of fraud become institutionalised to such a degree that before long, fraudulent activity becomes part of the very fabric of operations.

pharmaceuticalsThe Merck Corporation describes itself as: “A global healthcare leader working to help the world be well…” Nevertheless, it fraudulently represented the mumps component of its MMR vaccine, as well as lying to the public that the MMR II, used to replace the MMR vaccine Pluserix, was a viable, when studies proving the effectiveness of the vaccines were falsified. Merck allegedly did this from 2000 onwards in order to maintain its exclusive licence to sell the MMR vaccine and keep its monopoly of the US market, a practice that makes up much of the normal business of many pharmaceutical companies. [9]

A Child Health Safety report noted that “…virologists Stephen A. Krahling and Joan A. Wlochowski described a supervisor working for Merck manually changing test results that showed the vaccine wasn’t working and then hurriedly destroying the evidence to keep the fraud from being exposed.” [10] (More on the MMR vaccine in a future post: “Vaccine nations”).

The Vioxx pain-killer scandal is another example. In 2009 Merck was fined $321 million for illegally (and knowingly) marketing an unsafe drug, and after the company had reported over $11 billion in Vioxx sales during the 5 years the drug was on the market. Yet, the drug was so dangerous that Merck has paid almost $6 billion in litigation settlements and criminal fines. What this really means, according to journalist Craig Stellpflug: “Looking back we see the largest ever rise in US mortality rates occurred in 1999, the very year Vioxx was introduced. Not exactly a smoking-gun until you compare it with the largest ever drop in mortality in 2004, the year Vioxx was withdrawn. The net increase was 100,000 deaths per year in 1999 through 2004. … This equates to 500,000 people who died needlessly and Vioxx is the prime suspect in these murders.” [11]

GlaxoSmithKline was another large company recently caught out by its own greed and had to pay $3bn (£1.9bn) which resulted in the largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history. The drug giant pleaded guilty: “…to promoting two drugs for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data about a diabetes drug to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The settlement will cover criminal fines as well as civil settlements with the federal and state governments. The case concerns the drugs Paxil, Wellbutrin and Avandia.” [12]

According to U.S. federal investigators, GlaxoSmithKline:

• Routinely bribed doctors with luxury vacations and paid speaking gigs
• Fabricated drug safety data and lied to the FDA
• Defrauded Medicare and Medicaid out of billions
• Deceived regulators about the effectiveness of its drugs
• Relied on its deceptive practices to earn billions of dollars selling potentially dangerous drugs to unsuspecting consumers and medical patients
[13]

This was followed by an apology from GSK Vice President of Marketing Sir Andrew Witty having finally been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. In fact, millions of cookie jars. Whistleblower Gregory Thorpe believes the apology is worth very little as Witty was highly likely to have been involved with the illegal activity during the years he worked for the company. As Thorpe was punished by GSK for revealing the truth to the public with considerable pressure brought to bear on his stance, it is ironic indeed that Witty’s reward for his complicity was a knighthood. [14]

As part of a coordinated European program of routine inspection of safety reporting systems: “…80,000 reports for medicines marketed by Roche in the USA … had been collected through a Roche-sponsored patient support program, but which had not been evaluated to determine whether or not they should be reported as suspected adverse reactions to the EU authorities.”  What made this investigation particularly alarming were the reports of 15,161 patient deaths either through a natural progression of disease or via a causal link to the prescribed medicine.  As yet, nobody has thought to investigate these findings in the context of drug safety that was already known to be fraudulent at best. [15]

The presence and control of the medical community by drug companies on the internet and in subscription journals is widespread. Medical professionals who write articles for these medical journals do so to endorse specific drugs or medical devices. What is not commonly known is that most fail to disclose that they are receiving payment by Big Pharma for doing so. A report by the journal Archives of Medicine found approximately 50 percent of surgeons who received more than $1 million from orthopaedic medical device manufacturers did not disclose this information in their published journal articles.  The total for such payments amounted to $248 million in 2007. [16]

This report was preceded by the 2009 federal lawsuit filed against the AstraZeneca drug giant for paying Chicago psychiatrist Dr. Michael Reinstein almost $500,000 over a decade to conduct research and to promote its anti-psychotic drug, Seroquel which was found to have massive side effects. Reinstein was paid to essentially pimp for AstraZeneca by giving promotional speeches for the drug and to oversee a research company for which he was also paid in his capacity as consultant. It was alleged that Reinstein prescribed double the amount of drugs other psychiatrists administered for the same conditions. As patients reported their discomfort, pain and general suffering to Reinstein it was clear that profits were more important than patient concerns. Seroquel prescriptions from the doctor ran to more than 1,000 patients at a cost to the US taxpayer reaching $7.6 million.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca racked up unknown millions. [17]

 


Notes

[1] Young people in developed countries unhappy-survey Reuters, Nov 19, 2006.
[2] U.S. is most unfriendly country to visitors, survey says’ Reuters, Nov 20, 2006.
[3] Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, Dec. 16, 1999.
[4] Quoted from Chapter 12, P. 195; The End of Work, – Technology, Jobs and your Future, The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era by Jeremy Rifkin, published by Tarcher / Putnam Books 1995 |  ISBBN 0-87477-824-7.
[5] op. cit. Rifkin, (1995; p.197).
[6] Journal of American Medical Association via ‘Reading, Literacy & Education Statistics’ | http://www.readfaster.com/education_stats.asp
[7] ‘Eight-year-olds ‘can use Prozac’ BBC News, June 7, 2006.
[8] ‘The World’s Ten Best-Selling Drugs’ by Matthew Herper and Peter Kang March 22, 2006.
[9] ‘Scientists Sue Merck: Allege Fraud for MMR Vaccine’ by Dr. Suzanne Humphries, GreenMedInfo, July 4, 2012.
[10] ‘Are MMR vaccines dangerous for children? Dr Suzanne Humphries urges parents to get informed’, February 02, 2011. http://www.naturalnews.com/
[11] ‘Big Pharma: Getting away with murder’ June 07, 2012 by: Craig Stellpflug Natural News, http://www.naturalnews.com
[12] ‘GlaxoSmithKline to pay $3bn in USdrug fraud scandal’ BBC News, 2 July 2012.
[13] ‘GlaxoSmithKline fraud criminal charges’ By Ehthan A. Huff, Natural NewsJuly 8, 2012.
[14] ‘Glaxo admits “mistakes” over US guilt’ The Yorkshire Post, 26 July, 2012.
[15] ‘European Medicines Agency acts on deficiencies in Roche medicines-safety reporting’, June 21, 2012www.fiercepharma.com/
[16] ‘Surgeons fail to disclose big payments to journals’ Reuters, Sep 13, 2010.
[17] ‘Pharmaceutical Giant Paid $500,000 to Psychiatrist Who Used Chicago’s Poor as Guinea Pigs’ Dr. Michael Reinstein reaped a cool half million off his patients’ misery.’ By Christina Jewett and Sam Roe AlterNet, November 20, 2009.

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