Judging by ads one would think that the drug companies are all about saving lives and improving the health of all human beings. One would be wrong. While it’s true that drug discoveries have greatly improved the effectiveness of treating many conditions, it is not altruism that motivates how drug companies run their businesses. It is profit, pure and simple. As some will know, I have posted on this subject before. In that post I made the point that most R&D investment in what is the world’s most profitable industry is not in drugs intended for cures, i.e., not for antibiotics or vaccines, or fixes for malaria, dengue fever, or even chemotherapy. No, they concentrate on things like statins and drugs for chronic conditions like GERD, high triglyceride levels, psychiatric conditions, and male impotence because that’s where the profits are.
The use of expensive psychoactive drugs alone deserves special mention. Consider this from an article in Psychology Today:
Kirsch’s research reveals that psychoactive drugs are not nearly as effective as the pharmaceutical industry would lead us to believe. In fact, of the 42 studies cited above, placebos were found to be 82 percent as effective as the drugs being tested. According to Kirsch, the average difference between the reviewed drugs and placebos was 1.8 points, which, according to Angell, may be “statistically significant,” but “clinically unimpressive.” In light of this information, why do psychiatrists continue to prescribe antidepressants so frequently to their patients? The answer, suggests Angell, has more to do with the pharmaceutical industry’s success at marketing to psychiatrist than the actual clinical effectiveness of such drugs.
I can add from personal experience that I have seen psychoactive drugs routinely prescribed, and indefinitely renewed, to residents of nursing homes and residents of houses for the mentally handicapped with virtually zero evidence of efficacy. The above referenced article convinces me that my experience is far from unique.
Now comes a revelation in USA Today newspaper that,
Doctors, hospitals and patients across the USA are grappling with a record number of drug shortages, causing them to delay treatment, postpone surgery or make do with costlier and less effective substitutes. The article says,
Hospitals are running out of drugs used in everything from cancer to surgery, anesthesia and intravenous feeding, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
So far this year, 180 drugs have been in short supply. Virtually all U.S. hospitals say they’ve been affected, and 82% say the problem has delayed care for patients, says the American Hospital Association.
Although drugmakers say they’re doing everything they can to relieve the shortages, some health care experts say they see no end in sight.
“It’s a crisis situation,” says Joseph Hill of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
Why this is happening is admittedly complex, one factor being that many of these drugs are generics and some come from sources with faulty quality control. Generics, of course, are not as profitable as those still under patent. In reading the article there is only one conclusion I can draw: profit drives every business decision and the health of their clientele is only an afterthought and an advertising line for Big Pharma. Now the health of the country is beginning to suffer and some people are in danger of actually dying.
What we are seeing is avarice. Read through the explanations and the arguments and it is all about money. To fix the problem? More money. But wait a minute on that. This is, as I posted before, the most profitable industry in the world. What’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong is the same thing that’s wrong with the entire medical industry in America. The Medical Industrial Complex has been on a tear for decades to wring maximum profit from its business and it has been so successful that it is now threatening the very livelihood of its client base. Those who tout capitalism as the answer to solve this problem are missing a huge point – when business becomes so big that it can manipulate its own government regulation, true competition evaporates, tacit market sharing enters the picture, and the industry becomes a threat to the very society it says it serves, and in my opinion that is exactly what is happening.
In the meantime, if you get cancer or another serious condition, just hope the right medicine will be available. But if it’s not, Canada and Sweden probably won’t have it either. Big Pharma has a global reach now, and they do have their priorities.