Tag Archives: Big Pharma

Big Pharma and COVID-19

Big Pharma has a bad rep. And there are certainly valid reasons for that. Recent accounts of price gouging, particularly on common, life-saving drugs like insulin, have had consumers fuming. The cost of newer drugs is sky-high. And there have been an awful lot of drugs that were apparently sent to market too early, leading to a lot of dire side effects and drug recalls. Add to that the dubious practice of advertising prescription medications direct-to-consumer, and Big Pharma has abused the trust of the American people. The drugs they develop and sell may be – indeed, often are – beneficial and even life-saving, but that doesn’t seem to dissipate much of the cloud of bad feeling surrounding American pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Unfortunately, Big Pharma is likely going to be needed to help get us through the coronavirus crisis.

Sure, there are government agencies involved in the process of developing treatments and vaccines as well – the CDC, FDA, and NIH, to name a few. But even these institutes and organizations have been tainted by the dubious reputation of large drug companies. They are seen as in cahoots together, developing and testing drugs together, rushing them onto shelves and into doctors’ offices and hospitals, patenting the results, and pocketing the proceeds. Never mind whether that’s an accurate portrayal or not. That’s the public sentiment.

But where, exactly, do people believe that COVID-19 treatments and vaccines are going to come from, if not from Big Pharma and the various institutes? This is a novel virus, not likely to be much affected by drugs that already exist, though those should certainly be tried. Cures for other diseases have already been tested on COVID-19 and found wanting. Crackpot theories such as drinking bleach have made the rounds, with the potential to do great harm rather than help. Developing pharmaceuticals requires a huge investment of time and especially money. Big Pharma has to be big to work even as well as it does. So, yes, we should be looking to Big Pharma, if not directly for discovering a vaccine, at the very least for manufacturing and distributing it. Basically, there aren’t any mom-and-pop vaccine shops, biotech start-ups and upstarts notwithstanding. 

The question then becomes, if and when Big Pharma does develop drugs and vaccines for COVID-19 (far from guaranteed – we still don’t have a vaccine for HIV/AIDS), will people be willing to use them?

Scientific literacy is pretty low in the US right now. People don’t understand how vaccines work. Of course, that isn’t entirely the fault of the US education system. For decades now, there has been a growing party of anti-vaxxers that don’t just not understand the science, but refuse to even consider it. And facts don’t matter to those whose minds are made up. Still, after all these years and the complete discrediting of the guy who faked the study, people believe that vital childhood vaccinations cause autism.

Then there are the conspiracy theorists. I don’t know how many people there are who actually believe that Bill Gates is a Bond-style supervillain living on a volcano island, petting a long-haired white cat, but there certainly is a vocal subset of people who proclaim that, even should a vaccine for COVID-19 be produced, they will not use it, for fear of being microchipped, or submitting to the New World Order, or the Number of the Beast, or something. There may not be many people that far out on the limb, but their fervent influence has the potential to disrupt the herd immunity that ought to develop after the proper use of a new, effective vaccine.

So, the question becomes, if and when a treatment or vaccine becomes available, will people be smart enough to avail themselves of it? Or will the lack of trust in Big Pharma, the medical establishment, and medical science itself mean that sufferers will deny themselves treatment and go right on spreading the deadly disease?

I suppose it in part depends on how horrendous the death toll has been by the time that a vaccine exists, and how many family members, friends, and loved ones of doubters have died. 

 

 

 

We’re All Working for Big Pharma

bunch of white oval medication tablets and white medication capsules
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You may not know it, but you’re likely working for Big Pharma. And you have been since the 1980s.

That was when drug companies decided to begin direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising. Until then pharmaceutical companies had limited themselves to advertising to the medical community. There was no law that prevented them from taking their message to the streets. It was just the common practice.

Since the ’80s we have been increasingly bombarded with ads for drugs that are supposed to cure or “help alleviate” certain conditions, from the well-known ones such as diabetes to the obscure ones such as Peyronie’s disease. And since that time, ordinary people with no medical education – like you and me – have been shilling for Big Pharma.

The drugs ads all exhort you to “ask your doctor if Drug X is right for you.” Sounds simple enough. What it means, though, is that you, the consumer, are advertising the drug to your physician. In 2017, drug companies spent over $6.1 billion on DTC drug ads and you can bet that they are receiving much more than that in sales, or they wouldn’t do it.

There are FDA regulations that say that the advertising must not be false or misleading. That’s why you see in magazines one page of a smiling family, the name of a drug, and perhaps a slogan. The other page is black and white and features at least three columns of tiny type that no one ever reads, even if their eyesight is good enough. It’s the reason that the voice-over announcer on TV ads recites the list of possible side effects, which many consumers joke are worse than the disease.

One result is that consumers may pressure their doctors to prescribe the newest, most expensive drugs, even if the medication isn’t right for the patient’s condition. In the Journal of Clinical Oncology, oncology nurse practitioners were surveyed on the topic. A full 94% said a patient had requested an advertised drug; in 74% of cases, the request was for an inappropriate drug. And 43% felt pressured to prescribe the inappropriate drug.

But can’t medical people ignore the patients’ inappropriate requests? Maybe. But at least half of patients’ requested drugs are then prescribed. Patients don’t like being told that a drug is too expensive, or not thoroughly tested, or that there are other, older drugs and treatments that work just fine. Americans want the newest, the best, and the most expensive, whether it be sportscars or drugs.

You may notice that ads for brand-name drugs pop up and then hold on for a few years. Then you rarely see them again. Drug companies don’t make as much money when generic drugs become available, so they scale back the advertising. It’s much more profitable to tweak the formula and come out with a newer, even better version of the more expensive drug that consumers can sell to their doctors.

Don’t think that DTC advertising brings health care costs down, either. First, there’s that $6.1 billion dollars in advertising that must be recouped. A study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine that the cost of Plavix increased due to the need to recoup the high costs of DTC drug advertising.  So did the Medicaid funds spent for Plavix in pharmacies.

Brand-name drugs, the only kinds you see advertised, cost more than the equivalent, just-as-good generics. If you have insurance, the company may have to pay Big Pharma more for the designer drugs, and you can bet the costs are passed along to you in the form of higher premiums.

And insurance companies have lists of drugs they will and won’t pay for, called formularies. If the drug you requested and the doctor prescribed isn’t on the right list, you’re stuck with accepting a different drug or paying exorbitant costs for the shiny new one that caught your eye while you were watching Game of Thrones or the Today Show.

Drug companies used to send employees known as drug reps to doctors’ offices and convention, often spreading dollars, free samples, and certain perks around to influence the sale of their drugs. Now they’ve got a whole new sales force – the American people.

A more thorough discussion of the situation can be found at https://prescriptiondrugs.procon.org/.