Big Pharma: Dangerous Practices Don’t End With Martin Shkreli

By Jill Zorn

Medical pills and tabletsLast week was not a good week for Big Pharma.

The poster-boy for bad behavior, Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli, was forced to back down from his outrageous price increase for a life-saving drug that AIDS patients depend on.

Shkreli gave the industry such a black eye that they have actually publicly disavowed him, tweeting that he “does not represent the values of PhRMA member companies.” Even Donald Trump called him a “spoiled brat” and “disgusting.”

But Shkreli is not the only Pharma executive potentially guilty of committing “second degree murder.” And disgraceful price hikes are not the only threat the industry poses to patients.

Inadequate Consumer Protections

A recent article in the Nation explains points out that the 21st Century Cures Act that sped through the House and is likely to do the same in the Senate, as well as several recent court decisions, pose even greater danger.  In the name of “innovation” and “free speech,” the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is backing away from protecting American consumers:

With less and less evidence being required for FDA approval, and with wider and wider latitude in what companies can claim about the drugs they market, we may be returning to the pre-thalidomide days, when opening one’s medicine cabinet was akin to a game of Russian roulette.

Meanwhile, the nominee to be the next head of the FDA has strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry, leading some to question whether he is the right pick for the job.

Deceptive and Deadly Marketing Practices

The same week that the news was coming out about Shkreli, the New York Times posted two stories about unethical (to say the least) marketing practices that have led to deaths and disability.

One story focused on Paxcil, an anti-depressant, reporting that dangerous side effects experienced by adolescents, including suicidal thoughts or actions, were played down in the studies used to seek regulatory approval.

The other was Nicholas Kristoff’s column, When Crime Pays, which refers to an investigative piece by Steven Brill called, America’s Most Admired Law Breaker.  Brill’s subtitle of the piece reads:

“Over the course of 20 years, Johnson & Johnson created a powerful drug, promoted it illegally to children and the elderly, covered up the side effects and made billions of dollars.”

A grassroots movement, the Fed Up Coalition, has sprung up to protest the marketing and over prescribing of opiods, which have led to heroin addiction and death, particularly among young people:

Who Are We? We are families who have been ripped apart by opioids. We have lost loved ones to death or addiction. We are medical experts and advocates who understand that the root cause of the problem is overprescribing.  This is a grassroots coalition, all seeking action from the federal government to bring this public health crisis to an end.

Even so-called patient assistance programs are actually tools for getting people “hooked” on new drugs, and then requiring them to pay exorbitant prices, once all of the introductory coupons and gimmicks are gone.  These “sham” programs, while they clearly help some people, “cut prices for the few while keeping them bloated for everyone else.”

Taking Action

This situation is crying out for action.  Long after Martin Shkreli’s 15 minutes of infamy are over, most of the monopolistic and dangerous practices of the industry will continue.

The “free market” is not going to protect consumers.  Better regulation, of prices, of marketing practices and the drug approval process is clearly needed.  One series of recommendations was recently put forth by the Center for American Progress in their report, Enough is Enough.

Many groups, including AARP, are calling for the federal government to change its policy and allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

And, if you want to take it to the streets, Fed Up is holding a rally in Washington D.C. on October 3.

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One Response to Big Pharma: Dangerous Practices Don’t End With Martin Shkreli

  1. Pingback: A Larger Problem | Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut

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