The Truth About the Drug Companies

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An excerpt by Marcia Angell, M.D.

Dr. Angell is a former editor in chief of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. She is currently a senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School. The full title of the book is The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It

“The combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion) [in 2002]. Over the past two decades the pharmaceutical industry has moved very far from its original high purpose of discovering and producing useful new drugs. Now primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, this industry uses its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the FDA, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself.”

Every day Americans are subjected to a barrage of advertising by the pharmaceutical industry. Mixed in with the pitches for a particular drug—usually featuring beautiful people enjoying themselves in the great outdoors—is a more general message.

The essential message these drug companies are sending is this:

“Yes, prescription drugs are expensive, but that shows how valuable they are. Besides, our research and development costs are enormous, and we need to cover them. As ‘research-based’ companies, we turn out a steady stream of innovative medicines that lengthen life, enhance its quality, and avert more expensive medical care. You are the beneficiaries of this ongoing achievement of the American free enterprise system, so be grateful, quit whining, and pay up.” 

Is any of this true? Well, the first part certainly is. Prescription drug costs are indeed high—and rising fast. Americans now spend a staggering $200 billion a year on prescription drugs, and that figure is growing at a rate of about 12 percent a year.  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, in almost equal parts, 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, sometimes several times a year.

For example, before its patent ran out, the price of the allergy pill, Claritin, was raised thirteen times over five years, for a cumulative increase of more than 50 percent—over four times the rate of general inflation.

Once again, the pharmaceutical companies would have you believe the enormity of this rising cost is due to all of the Research & Development (R&D) being done.  First, research and development (R&D) is a relatively small part of the budgets of the big drug companies.  The vast expenditures in their budget are placed on marketing and administration. In fact, year after year, for over two decades, this industry has been far and away the most profitable in the United States.

Second, the pharmaceutical industry is not especially innovative. As hard as it is to believe, only a handful of truly important drugs have been brought to market in recent years, and they were mostly based on taxpayer-funded research at academic institutions, small biotechnology companies, or the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and not the R&D departments of the pharmaceutical companies, as they would have you believe.

The great majority of “new” drugs are not new at all but merely variations of older drugs already on the market. These are called “me-too” drugs. The idea is to grab a share of an established, lucrative market by producing something very similar to a top-selling drug. For instance, we now have six statins (Mevacor, Lipitor, Zocor, Pravachol, Lescol, and the newest, Crestor) on the market to lower cholesterol, all variants of the first.

Big Pharma’s stranglehold on Washington

It’s no surprise that American corporations spend billions of dollars each year on lobbying, in order to gain favorable treatment from legislators. What some may find a bit unnerving is which industry is leading the pack in these efforts.

You might think our nation’s defense and aerospace companies, which have legions of hired guns on Capitol Hill, are the leaders.  Or perhaps Big Oil, which is perpetually fighting  with environmentalists and consequently needs friends in Washington to block what it considers onerous legislation or regulations.  In both cases, you’d be wrong.

It’s actually the pharmaceutical industry that spends the most each year to influence our lawmakers, forking over a total of $2.6 billion on lobbying activities from 1998 through 2012, according to To get some perspective on just how big that number is, Oil and Gas companies spent $1.4 billion lobbying Congress over the same time frame while the Defense and Aerospace industry spent $662 million, a fourth of Big Pharma’s total.  Even the insurance industry spent less than Big Pharma at a budget of $1.8 billion.

In fact, latest statistics show that pharmaceutical companies employ more lobbyist that the total number of the members of congress (which by the way is 535 congressional members) .  The huge sum of money our nation’s drug makers lavish on Congress each year enables our nation’s legislators to turn a blind eye, while pharmaceutical companies engage in predatory pricing practices along with enjoying exclusive rights to manufacture drugs for 20 years or more.

It has been estimated that drug costs and drug price inflation are among the main drivers of health care costs for individuals and families and threaten the fiscal health of our public health care programs.

To get some idea of the impact of this on the American health care consumer, it is instrumental to compare drug prices in the United States to those in other countries, where governments set a limit on price increases.

Each year, the Canadian government’s Patented Medicine Prices Review Board releases a study analyzing drug prices around the world, and according to that study prices in the United States have risen an average of 8 percent a year from 2006 through 2011, while drug prices in Canada have remained flat. The impact that has on the divergence in pricing for the U.S. health care consumer is considerable.

For instance, in 2006, U.S. consumers paid about 70 percent more than Canadian citizens, according to the Canadian board. Five years later, in 2011, that difference had surged to U.S. consumers paying 100 percent more than Canadians. And with drug price inflation in the United States continuing to rise, that gap will undoubtedly grow ever wider in the future.

The influence that Big Pharma has purchased by lobbying our nation’s legislators has an impact that touches virtually every American.

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Drug companies have armies of lobbyist

Pharmaceutical companies are profiting, immensely on our sickness and disease.  What’s worse is that we may start off with only one illness but after being on 1 or 2 medications we begin a cascade of other illnesses

Pharmaceutical companies hire an enormous army of lobbyist to sway law makers into doing their bidding.  It is shameful that our government allows the pharmaceutical company to blatantly market to the general public.  There is only one other country that allows this direct drug marketing (New Zealand).  No other countries allow this.

In my office, I commonly see elderly patients who are on more than 15 prescription medications.  They started out on 2 but then had to be prescribed 2 more to treat the side effects from the first 2 drugs they were prescribed.  This is the usual avalanche.

Don’t allow yourself to be lead like lambs to the slaughter by these drug companies.  They care nothing about your health.  On the contrary, they prefer to see you remain sick.

Become pro-active and take a stance in your health.  You have many options to avoid being on multiple medications.  If you don’t know where to start, simply visit our website at:

We have a plethora of information on things you can do for your general health in order to stay healthy or get healthy.

Dr. John Coppola, D.C. and Dr. Valerie Monteiro, D.C.

This blog has been provided by Dr. John Coppola, D.C. and Dr. Valerie Monteiro, D.C. Dr. Coppola and Dr. Monteiro are the founders of the San Antonio Neuropathy Center, and Precision Sport & Spine. They are the leading experts in the field of neuropathy and specifically drug free nerve repair. They are the authors of the critically acclaimed book “Defeat Neuropathy Now …. In Spite of Your Doctor. The doctors have over 25 years of clinical experience.

If you would like to reach the doctors regarding a specific health problem, you may email them at [email protected].

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