I wanted to write about “Big Pharma” (aka the pharmaceutical industry) and how the industry affects all of us. I didn’t realize that I was personally affected, especially since I believed that, with my education and background, I knew better. However, in the past I, too, had allowed myself to be taken in. It all started coming back to me—all the drugs that doctors had, at the very least, suggested that I take; the flood of free sample I had been offered, diagnosis after diagnosis. This was all before I started to take a close look at how I could use supplements, diet, and lifestyle to diminish or remove the physical symptoms I was experiencing. I don’t recall ever being educated by doctors as to how I could help myself through diet and lifestyle. As it turns out, I am not alone.
According to Fierce Pharma, 9 out of 10 drug companies spend more on marketing than on drug research. CBS News reported in 2016 that the pharmaceutical drug industry spends $5.2 billion annually on drug advertising, a jump of 60% in just four years. This would account for the nonstop ads for pharmaceuticals. All the ads end with the same phrase: “Ask your doctor” about this drug or that. Thus, your doctor is also subjected to an onslaught of pharmaceutical marketing in a variety of delivery methods to the tune of $24 billion a year.
The Drug Pushers
Sales representatives are the connector, foot soldiers in every drug maker’s attempt to reach us through our doctors. You might think that drug representatives would have a science or medical background, but this is not necessarily true at all. Pharmaceutical sales representatives do not come empty-handed. They visit doctors with samples (how many of you have been given these samples by your doctor who is overly positive about this new drug?), brochures and pamphlets, “swag” (branded products), personal gifts, and invitations to dinner. They may also invite a doctor to “educational” meetings where industry-paid doctors speak about particular drugs. Typically, these meetings are like infomercials; highly biased in favor of the drug with evidence taken from research that was designed, run, analyzed, and funded by the drug company itself. Sales reps are schooled only in promotional material, not in the science or medicine behind pharmaceuticals. To be fair, many doctors will take this into consideration.
Most drug companies have been fined a substantial amount for ethical issues. For example, Seroquel, made by AstraZeneca, is an anti-psychotic intended to treat schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder and has life-threatening side effects. It was being marketed for sleeplessness, dementia, and depression. This is known as going off-label and is a dangerous practice. When a drug is marketed for an off-label purpose, it has not been approved by the FDA for that condition and has not been studied for risks or dosages related to the condition. AstraZeneca did not admit any wrongdoing but settled for half a billion dollars, according to Lew Morris, former Chief Counsel for HHS office of Inspector General.
Just about every drug company has paid out for similar problems; it’s not just one drug company for one drug. According to the Corporate Research Project website,
- Johnson & Johnson paid out 2.2 billion for criminal and civil allegations involving off-label marketing of a psychotropic drug and kickbacks to doctors and pharmacists to encourage off-label usage;
- Eli Lilly and company agreed to pay 1.4 billion for off-label marketing of Zyprexa, another schizophrenia drug;
- Glaxo Smith Kline was fined $3 billion for kickbacks paid to doctors and other health professionals to get them to prescribe and promote Wellbutrin (an anti-depressant) as not just an antidepressant, but as the happy, sex-drive-increasing, and skinny pill.
This list is but a scratch on the surface of the myriad false claims, marketing fraud, and bribery payouts made by pharmaceutical companies. After all, pharmaceutical companies must make a profit and answer to their shareholders, but at what cost? If you would like to learn more about your doctor and their dealings with the pharmaceutical industry, go to Open Payments Data and search your doctor, hospital, or drug company for more information.
Sources for data in order of appearance: