Big Pharma's Grasp
the unholy and enigmatic alliances between lobbyists, insurance companies
and their friends in Congress are responsible in large part for the unsettling
vicissitudes of health care reform, Big Pharma must surely share in the
blame game as well.
doubt we have all been beneficiaries of research and development, which
has led to major breakthroughs in all fields of medicine. We are living
longer and, some would argue, healthier lives as a result of medications
that forestall the damage due to age-related illness and self-neglect, or
bail us out of situations that would have knocked off our grandparents.
these days Big Pharma is throwing billions of dollars into marketing drugs
that really don't do anything new or exciting. In a disturbing trend, pharmaceutical
companies are in the business of manufacturing a diagnosis to their drug,
rather than working on a new drug for an existing condition. From a physician's
point of view, we're seeing resources shifting from the development of important
new drugs to the marketing of "me too" variants of existing drugs.
In an effort to gain or expand upon patent protection, an existing drug
might be tweaked or repackaged ever so slightly, at great cost but relatively
little benefit to the public.
how do drug companies manage to sell drugs we don't need for conditions
we don't have? Ah, the power of multilevel marketing.
physicians are first in line to be manipulated. Our medical journals consist
almost entirely of glossy pharmaceutical ads, with an occasional scientific
article thrown in to justify their publication. And there are always those
cozy and questionable relationships between physician researchers in academic
medical centers who run the "objective" clinical trials for the
drug companies. In the marketing world, a minor improvement in outcomes
for an expensive "me too" drug is tantamount to the discovery
does this information of dubious value make its way to the office-based
physician? At times, the message is transported on the wings of angels -
willowy twentysomething supermodels turned drug reps who ordinarily wouldn't
talk to a frumpy old guy like me. The trouble is, after meeting with them,
I can't remember which drug they were promoting. But there's a drug for
next level of marketing involves the lavish spending by pharmaceutical companies
upon members of Congress, which amounted to approximately $275 million last
year. Lots of money can coax our elected representatives to feign horror
at the prospect of decreasing the duration of patents, or importing cheaper
drugs from elsewhere in the world. A lobbyist's dream come true was the
provision in the Medicare drug benefit (Part D) that has prohibited the
government from negotiating pricing on drugs for Medicare recipients.
and perhaps most flagrantly, drug companies are able to convey their convoluted
messages to the public with direct-to-consumer advertising. The United States
and New Zealand are the only countries that permit DTC advertising of prescription
an estimated cost of $4 billion in the United States last year, DTC advertising
is another colossal waste of money in our health care system.
a recent 30-minute evening network news program, I counted 10 separate pharmaceutical
commercials, all with happy people cured of their depression, high cholesterol,
peripheral vascular disease and asthma. These smiling and confident folks
don't even break stride as the narrator rattles off a few dozen potentially
fatal side effects in the last half of the commercials.
then bring their requests to the doctor's office. With little time, and
less energy to object, doctors take the path of least resistance and write
the costly prescription. Mission accomplished.
wonder physicians who have been practicing for a while are suffering from
comprehensive cure for all the aforementioned conditions is to get off the
couch and stop watching TV.
a bitter pill to swallow, but Big Pharma has us all in its grasp.
KIEFNER For the Monitor