[Ip-health] The Withering of Big Pharma? (innovators or rentiers?)

Riaz K Tayob riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Fri Nov 8 06:54:48 PST 2013

Weekend Edition November 8-10, 2013
Yawn. Another Drug Marketing Scandal

  The Withering of Big Pharma?


It used to be when a drug company settled illegal marketing charges that 
millions took its drugs under false pretenses, the news would be 
released on a Friday afternoon when no one would notice. That was then. 
Now almost all the drug companies have joined the Off label/Kickback 
club and the public doesn't seem to notice or care.

On the surface, Johnson & Johnson's $2.2 billion settlement this week 
for illegally marketing drugs to the elderly, children and the mentally 
disabled looks like a victory.  J&J's subsidiary, Janssen 
Pharmaceuticals, will plead guilty to illegally promoting the 
antipsychotic Risperdal for "controlling aggression and anxiety in 
elderly dementia patients and treating behavioral disturbances in 
children and in individuals with disabilities," reports Reuters. The 
promotions included a brazen kickback scheme to Omnicare Inc, a pharmacy 
supplying nursing homes, exposed by a whistleblower.

/At least 15,000 elderly people in nursing homes die a year /from drugs 
like Risperdal said FDA drug reviewer David Graham in Congressional 
testimony a few years ago. Eli Lilly who makes the similar drug Zyprexa 
and AstraZeneca who makes Seroquel have also settled charges that they 
churned the elderly drug market at the price of Grandma and Grandpa's lives.

But it is not a victory. J&J made /$24.2 billion off Risperdal from 2003 
to 2010 /and shareholders won't even notice this week's nano loss. J&J 
milked Risperdal for all it was worth and the patent had already run out 
by the time it was charged with illegal schemes. Other drug giants 
charged with illegal marketing schemes--Abbott for Depakote, Pfizer for 
Bextra,  Eli Lilly for Zyprexa, AstraZeneca for Seroquel, 
GlaxoSmithKline for Paxil and Merck for Vioxx--also got their money's 
worth before the trivial nuisance of suit. Many, like Pfizer who 
illegally marketed its seizure drug Neurontin while /under/ /probation 
for illegal Lipitor activitie/s--are brazen and shameless repeat offenders.

Many say the only justice that will get Big Pharma's attention is frog 
marching the CEOs off to prison and/or cutting them off from their 
lucrative public trough of Medicare, Medicaid and military health programs.

Still, Big Pharma's audacious business plan of /asking forgiveness not 
permission /is winding down. Not because Pharma, prescribers, consumers, 
regulators and health officials have seen the light but because there 
are no more big drugs to pimp. An estimated 100,000 workers will be 
losing their jobs at Pfizer, Sanofi, Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca 
and Merck reported Yahoo finance last month.

Only two new drug campaigns seem to be brewing and they require a major 
suspension of reality on the part of doctors and patients. One tries to 
convince people with low back pain they actually suffer from ankylosing 
spondylitis an arthritis-like condition that causes chronic inflammation 
of the spine.  If your spine is stiff when you wake up in the morning 
you can take an immune suppressor like Humira which puts you at risk of 
tuberculosis and lethal viral, fungal and bacterial infections while 
costing you $12,000 to $17,000 a year. Line forms to the left.

The other, even more brazen campaign, tries to convince people with 
insomnia, tiredness during the day, moodiness and relationship problems 
that they actually suffer from /Non-24-Hour Sleep--Wake Disorder/, a 
disorder that affects mostly blind people. You don't have to be blind to 
have the disorder, says the new Pharma message /even though there have 
been fewer than 100 cases of sighted people with non-24 reported in the 
scientific literature. /It sounds like a stretch but so did convincing 
people with job, money and marriage problems they really/had depression 
or bipolar disorder./

Still it is obvious the bloom has fallen off the Big Pharma rose and it 
is now paying the piper for the high-flying party with drug settlements 
like Johnson & Johnson's this week. But that doesn't mean shady 
marketing, hidden risks, kickbacks and outrageous prices are gone from 
the medical field. They have just moved to the Medical Device industry.

/*Martha Rosenberg* is an investigative health reporter. She is the 
author of Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks 
Pimp The Public Health 
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1616145935/counterpunchmaga> (Prometheus)./

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