Prescription drug costs, already astronomical, continue to rise into the stratosphere. Americans now spend a staggering $250 billion a year on drugs, and that figure is growing at a rate of about 12 percent a year. According to a revealing article by Marcia Angell, former Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, prescription drugs are the fastest-growing part of the health care bill—which itself is rising at an alarming rate. “The increase in drug spending reflects … the facts that people are taking a lot more drugs than they used to, that those drugs are more likely to be expensive new ones instead of older, cheaper ones, and that the prices of the most heavily prescribed drugs are routinely jacked up.”
The U.S. Senate recently passed the FDA “drug safety” bill today (S.1082) with a 93-1 vote. A key amendment that would have called for genuine drug safety protections for consumers — the Grassley amendment 1039 — was defeated by a single vote (47 to 46). Senators who received substantial donations from pharmaceutical companies were instrumental in making the new drug bill more industry-friendly. The new law deepens financial ties between “Big Pharma” (2 million hits on Google) and the FDA, doubling the amount of money directly paid to the regulator by drug companies, “but fails to protect foods and nutritional supplements from overreaching FDA regulation efforts. The new law also failed to end Big Pharma’s monopoly stranglehold on American consumers, further blocking the ability of citizens, …to import equivalent and often (safer) medications from countries like Canada.”
Dr. Paul Rosch, President of The American Institute of Stress, discusses Big Pharma in his outstanding publication, Health and Stress. He documents multiple examples of “misleading drug promotion, overpricing, and the corruption of the medical and Governmental establishment by the pharmaceutical industry in a pattern of widespread abuse.” Dr. Rosch also reports that two years ago 94% of the more than 5,000 scientists at NIH were engaged in lucrative conflict of interest activities, and that top officials had received over $2.5 million in fees and stock options from drug companies over the past decade. “In 2002, the pharmaceutical industry spent $91.4 million on federal lobbying activities, and at least another $50 million was spent to influence Congress and others through advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, and grants. Drug companies had 675 registered lobbyists and 26 of these were former members of Congress.” This, according to other articles quoted by CNN and appearing in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time, The Nation, and other publications, is only the tip of the iceberg.
Another shocking issue I hope to discuss in later blogs, is the employment by pharmaceutical companies of large numbers of practicing physicians in the “detailing” of drugs to fellow professionals and advertising hundreds of drugs to patients through the media, a practice illegal in the European Union.
The science fiction writer, Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash (1992), the three part trilogy The Baroque Cycle, and other philosophical-historical novels, offers an intriguing name to current medical economics. He describes how the political system has always been subject to “power disorders,” sudden deviations or disequilibria in which “certain groups or persons suddenly concentrate a lot of power and abuse it.” Does this phenomenon describe what is happening to medicine today? Or is it perhaps only one of many pathologies afflicting our present system of health care?