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Thursday, December 02, 2004 

People vs. Pharma Cartels

While Al Qaeda, Iraq, the US elections, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Globalization and Immigration monopolized the headlines for the past four years, the Pharmaceutical Cartel was happy to be relegated to the Financial News section.

Now, it's time to make them front page news again for several reasons.

Obscene Profits Off the Sick and the Dying
You see, making your profits off sick and dying people makes you a Blue Chip company. Even though the industry is rife with ethical and moral scandals, they still manage to make money. And lots of it. In 2001, just the nine largest drug manufacturers alone made a whopping 33% profit...$30.6 billion. But yet they claim they can't provide cheap drugs because they spend so much money on research and development and can't possibly spare a cent on lower cost drugs. Of course, this is an outright lie. Take a look at the high-cholesterol drug, Lipitor for example. They spend 61% of their money on marketing and manufacturing, executive pay, worker costs. Only 15% goes to actual research. According to www.webmd.com, it costs roughly $800 million to bring a new drug to market. Considering the billions they make in profit, surely they could spend a bit less on marketing and a bit more on research and development to provide lower cost, life-saving drugs to the people who really need it. And they'd still have enough money left over to continue their reign as Wall Street's darlings. These drug giants have profits bigger than many countries federal budgets and their CEOs salaries and stock options make oil rich nations look like paupers.

http://www.aflcio.org/aboutaflcio/magazine/0503_bigfix.cfm (Inisider dirt on the industry)
http://my.webmd.com/content/pages/18/102184 (Pro Pharmaceutical)
http://www.p-d-r.com/ranking/Scrip%20Report%202003.pdf (Drug Company profits 2003)
http://www.actupny.org/reports/durban-licensing.html (Profits & Salaries 1999)

Financially Rich but Morally and Ethically Bankrupt
In order to get their drugs to market, they need to have clinical trials. Clinical trials is just a fancy name for finding human guinea pigs to test their drugs. They find these people several ways. One way is to pay doctors to refer their patients to the drug companies.

The drug companies pay doctors thousands...sometimes as much as $500,000-$1,000,000 a year... to refer patients to the clinical trial programs. Each patient referred to a trial nets them upwards of $1,000 per person and they get bonuses for reaching their recruitment target. Since money is involved in this scheme, doctors neglect to tell patients just what is involved with the trials and sometimes don't even bother to check if the patient has a medical condition which might have serious consequences for them if they take the drug.

(In addition to paying doctors to recruit patients, they also spent $13.2 billion in direct marketing to physicians, five times the $2.5 billion spent in direct-to-consumer advertising.)

The other way is to trick them. By not telling patients that the drug is experimental, what the side-effects of the new drug are or how often the trials are unregulated, unsuspecting patients believe that it's no worse than taking an aspirin and the benefits far outweight the risks. Sometimes, the patients are children...usually from the financially disadvantaged classes. In New York city, they took orphaned and foster care children and force fed them the experimental and toxic medicine. In Nigeria, Pfizer conducted clinical trials on 200 children with cerebral meningitis. 5 of them died and many others were left with disabilities. As Vera Sherav said (the spokesperson for the Alliance for Human Research Protection) ""Would they have done those experiments with their own children? I doubt it."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/this_world/4038375.stm (Nigerian scandal)
http://www.worldpress.org/Africa/1190.cfm (Pfizer scandal)

The Pharma Cartel also spent more money than any other industry trying to influence politicans than ANY OTHER industry...oil lobbyists included.

So...they pay off politicians. They pay off doctors. They pay themselves. Yet they still cry poverty when it comes to giving poor people the life-saving medication they need. It's understandable that they want to protect their patents on their drugs for the research and development that they do carry out but to deny people the chance to buy these same drugs at an affordable price when many of them suffered to help bring the drug to market is just deplorable.

Banning Food Supplements
The days we took calcium to strengthen our bones and potassium to maintain our blood pressure may be over if the EU has its way. A bill known as Directive 2002/46/EC, which is scheduled for enforcement on 1 August 2005 , is designed to harmonise the market across all Member States. It would result in the removal from sale many currently available forms of essential minerals including forms of calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium. If this bill goes through uncontested, we will only be able to buy these common nutrients which we have used for decades, over the counter. And once that happens, the drug companies will have won again at our expense. We will be forced to fatten their profit margins by buying these nutrients or pharma variants of them from the drug companies instead.


So the next time you visit your doctor or fill a prescription, you might just be inspired enough to check out alternatives to the glitzy and overpriced brand name drugs to send a message to the Pharmaceutical Industry. Let them know that a slick ad campaign, shady business practices and doctor coercion aren't the best way to get you to shell out your hard-earned money on designer drugs.