Several recent stories have once again placed the spotlight on Big Pharma’s massive lying machine designed to hide their utterly anti-human profiteering and price gouging. The one particular story that made the most news was about the 13 Democrats who voted on January 12 to oppose (totally symbolic) legislation to lower the cost of drug prices by allowing people to import prescriptions from Canada.
The legislation, which came in the form of an amendment to Affordable Care Act repeal-related legislation, was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders and would have allowed people in the U.S. to import their prescription drugs from Canada where they are considerably cheaper due to that nation’s system of universal healthcare. This isn’t the first time such bills have been proposed; in 2000 and 2007 drug importation bills actually passed Congress but were never implemented.
Big Pharma puts out a talking point that this sort of importation would be “dangerous.” This is the height of absurdity given that most of these drugs are actually manufactured in the United States.
Either way the bills in previous years had a clause that required the FDA certify the imported drugs were safe; both the Clinton and Bush administrations refused to do that at the pleas of Big Pharma. Further, during the writing of the Affordable Care Act, Democrats killed an importation provision because they thought including it would cause Big Pharma to lobby against the bill and kill it.
Given that 72 percent of people in the U.S. support drug importation, it really doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what motivated the lack of action. Senator Cory Booker, a Democratic Party rising star, took quite a bit of heat for voting against Sanders amendment. Which, as many noted, stood out given his almost $300,000 in donations from Big Pharma. Several other Democrats voting against had also cashed six-figure checks from the industry.
The overall issue at stake, here, the cost of drugs, also became a large issue in its own right during the same week when drugstore chain CVS released a generic version of the EpiPen at one-sixth of the cost of Mylan pharmaceuticals that makes the branded EpiPen. Mylan caused a furor when it arbitrarily raised the price to $600, well out of the range of millions of people. They later released a generic version that still retails for $300.
CVS’s roughly $100 version of the EpiPen reveals the fact that Big Pharma consistently lies about how much it costs to produce drugs. This was also revealed last year when a number of Australian school boys, 17-years-old all of them, produced a version of Daraprim–an AIDS and malaria drug–that “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli and his company sell to people for $750 a pill.
According to the pharmaceutical industry it costs $1.2 billion to bring a new drug to market. Academic researchers tested their claim, and found that in fact, it costs on average only $75 million.
The BBC also examined the claims that most of the drug company profits went to R&D and found that in fact much larger sums go to advertising. Of the top ten drug companies, literally only one spent more money on R&D than advertising. Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer actually spent about double the amount on advertising as research.
As one industry insider anonymously told the BBC, they “wouldn’t be able to justify” Pfizer’s 42 percent profit margin if called on to do so in public. Further at least 10-20 percent of drugs since 1990 have been developed by the public not the private sector. Most of these drugs were for cancer and infectious disease treatment, something the New England Journal of Medicine noted would have a “disproportionately large therapeutic effect.”
And if all this wasn’t enough, late last year Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, pushed by Big Pharma, that would, in the words of journalist David Dayen, “streamline FDA reviews, secure automatic approval for certain devices and drug therapies without rigorous screening, and allow the use of ‘real world’ evidence of drug effectiveness rather than more credible randomized clinical trials.”
While Wall Street is often, and rightfully, the principal target of scorn as it concerns the predatory nature of the capitalist system, just the past few months of activity by Big Pharma show that the pharmaceutical industry should be getting mentioned right up there with them.