When Lawsuits Aren’t Enough: Big Pharma and the Opioid Epidemic

Guest Post by Morgan Statt

Hardly a day goes by without hearing news of America’s opioid epidemic. 2016 was the worst year for opioid deaths, with overdoses claiming over 63,000 lives. With jarring statistics like this one, government officials have started to assign blame for opioid use reaching crisis levels.

Their target? Drug companies

Almost every single state in the U.S. has filed lawsuits against drug manufacturers and distributors for their involvement and essential creation of the opioid epidemic. Sadly the cost penalties, which are minuscule in the face of humongous profits, are unlikely to trigger genuine reform.

Big Pharma is Big Business.

We can assign blame to the drug companies for their involvement in the crisis, and lawsuits are an effective way to do that. However if we are genuine about stemming the current opioid crisis, we must commit to making fundamental changes in the US health care system.

Two areas in vital need of reform are clinical trial funding and massive Big Pharma lobbying.

  1. Drug companies are allowed to fund clinical trials

Each year, the National Institute of Health sets aside a portion of its budget to fund clinical trials that are needed before a drug can hit the market. In recent years, however, a Johns Hopkins study revealed that this funding has drastically fallen and is now largely supported by pharmaceutical companies. With financial interest in the outcomes of certain clinical trials, industry funding presents the opportunity for drug companies to favor positive results over negative outcomes that may affect patient safety.

Look no further than the blood thinner Pradaxa’s clinical trial RE-LY to serve as an example. Critics of this industry-funded trial pointed out that it generalized the medication’s population and failed to be a double-blind study, presenting a prime possibility for bias and misreporting.

Hasty FDA approval followed these skewed trial results, and Pradaxa was put on the market in 2010 without an antidote to reduce its blood thinning effects. For five years, an antidote failed to be introduced, and severe bleeding incidents and over 1,000 deaths occurred as a result of taking the medication. Since then, a wave of lawsuits have been filed against manufacturer Boehringer Ingelheim for its hand in the bleeding incidents. Finally in 2014, over 4,000 claims were satisfied with a $650 million settlement.

  1. The #1 Lobbying Industry is Pharmaceutical/Health

Lobbying is a legal activity that is meant to help those who don’t have direct access to members of Congress get their voices heard. Although this practice is theoretically good-hearted, the reality is that money has the power to influence decisions that negatively impact the American public. In the first quarter of 2017 alone, the pharmaceutical industry spent $78 million in its lobbying efforts, an increase of $10 million since 2016.

This phenomenal dollar spend has enabled Big Pharma to sway policy decisions in favor of big business rather than public safety. In regards to the opioid crisis, The Pain Care Forum, funded by the pharmaceutical industry, spent over $740 million to stop legislation that would have put limits on opioid prescribing habits.


Morgan Statt is a Safety Investigator at ConsumerSafety.org

 

photo credit: DES Daughter Opioid Epidemic via photopin (license)

Pill Pushers in Suits: The Addition Potential of Psychotropic Medication

 

Overpill: The Darker Side of America’s Mental Health

RT (2017)

Film Review

Overpill is a documentary based on the investigation of a Russian-born accountant into the massive overprescription of psychotropic drugs (medications for depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and ADHD) in the US. He became aware of the issue while working for Health Care Communications, a company that markets prescription drugs to Americans for ordinary problems of living. He undertook this investigation after becoming romantically involved with a woman who was addicted to antidepressants and antispsychotics while, despite experiencing horrendous side effects.

The film features extended interviews with former patients who got their lives back after the excruciating ordeal of weaning themselves off medication, with others still struggling with side effects while weaning themselves off, with a malpractice attorney who represents patients experiencing permanent and painful psychotropic complications and Dr Peter Breggin, a controversial American psychiatrist and outspoken critic of the overuse of psychotropic medication.

Both men are alarmed by the deliberate effort by pharmaceutical companies to conceal the addictive potential of antidepressants and antipsychotics, as well as studies showing these drugs can permanently alter the submicroscopic architecture of the brain. This is of special concern with the growing number of psychotropics prescribed in children with developing brains. There are virtually no studies of the long term effect of these drugs in either adults or children.

While the film acknowledges that psychotropic medication can be literally life-saving in some patients with severe mental illness, it rightly points out there are far too many cases in which they’re being inappropriately prescribed.

As a class psychotropic drugs (which are heavily marketed to consumers), are the third most profitable for the pharmaceutical industry.

 

The Hidden History of Smallpox Vaccine

Suzanne Humphries – Dissolving Illusions

Dr Suzanne Humphries (2017)

In this video, board certified nephrologist Suzanne Humphries explodes the myth that mass vaccination was responsible for eradicating small pox in the developed world.

She begins by describing the vaccine’s development by Edward Jenner in the 18th century. Jenner’s decision to inject children with pus from cows infected with cowpox was based on his theory, which has never been proven, that it would protect them from developing smallpox.

A close examination of the medical literature reveals Jenner’s vaccine was never effective against the most virulent form of smallpox. In England an 1871 outbreak of smallpox, after 33 years of compulsory vaccination (leading to unprecedented levels of sickness and death in healthy children), would lead to first anti-vaccine movement by outraged parents. By 1889 when they finally overturned compulsory vaccination, only 15% of parents were complying with the law – they preferred risking imprisonment and seizure of their property to jeopardizing their children’s lives.

Humphries goes on to discuss more recent smallpox outbreaks in vaccinated populations – in 1945 in 100% vaccinated US troops and in 1972 in Yugoslavia, where over 95% were vaccinated.

Most interesting, however, is her description of George W Bush’s abortive attempt to mass vaccinate Americans in 2003. This initiative was based on alleged intelligence that “terrorists” were planning to attack the US with weaponized smallpox virus.

The project was scrapped after the CDC ruled that patients would have to give informed consent acknowledging the vaccine was more likely to kill them than small pox (the CDC predicted 285 deaths in otherwise healthy individuals). The required package insert revealed that small pox vaccine is contraindicated in patients under 18 and those with a personal or family history of heart disease, diabetes or elevated cholesterol.

Humphries maintains that smallpox vanished from the developed world (in 1979) for the same reason as other infectious illnesses, such as typhoid, scarlet fever and cholera. The infectious epidemics that scourged 18th and 19th century slums were largely the product of contaminated drinking water, near-starvation diets, overcrowding and poor hygiene. As smallpox virus is only transmitted through direct physical contact, most 19th century cases were transmitted by doctors, nurses and carers who failed to wash their hands.

At the end of her talk, Humphries compares doctor’s superstitious attitudes towards non-evidence based vaccinations to blood letting, another common medical treatment in the 19th century. Owing to the power of Big Pharma and the failure of medical schools to expose students to the extensive  medical literature about vaccination drawbacks, doctors (like Humphries) who raise legitimate concerns about vaccine safety continue to be treated like criminals and quacks.

Anatomy of Modern Corruption: The Clinton Foundation and the Superdelegates

What Hillary Clinton Really Represents

Empire Files (2016)

Film Review

This early 2016 documentary is a virtual encyclopedia of Clinton family corruption. Based entirely on publicly verifiable information, it reveals how Hillary, especially, has based her political career on supporting legislation that specifically benefits her corporate and foreign donors. It also explores the identity of some of the 700 Democratic “superdelegates” who helped deny Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination – despite overwhelming support he received from voters.

The Clinton Foundation was founded in 1997 with the alleged purpose of providing humanitarian relief after international disasters. Its real purpose, however, was to engage in “crisis capitalism,” a term coined by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. Following a disasters, such as the 2001 earthquake in India, the Clinton Foundation would waltz in and create a variety of for-profit projects enabling further exploitation of third world resources and labor by Clinton Foundation donors.

Major donors to the Clinton foundation included Exxon, Walmart, Pfizer, Dow, Monsanto, General Electric (GE), Fox News, the Soros Foundation, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. As senator, Clinton rewarded the latter two donors by supporting deregulation that would lead to their bankruptcy in 2008 and a massive taxpayer bailout.

As Secretary of State, Clinton would grant similar favors to Boeing and GE by facilitating overseas sales of their military hardware and to Exxon by heavily promoting the spread of fracking throughout the world.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Republic and Qatar were also big donors to the Clinton Foundation. In all 181 Clinton Foundation donors lobbied Clinton as Secretary of State and most were successful in getting the policies they advocated enacted.

Many of the 700 superdelegates appointed by the Democratic National Committee (to help ensure their hand picked candidates won the Democratic primary) were also corporate lobbyists hoping to benefit financially from a Clinton presidency: among others, the corporate lobbies represented included the Excel pipeline, the private prison industry, Big Pharma and the four main Wall Street banks (City Group, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase).

How Big Pharma Controls Health Care

big_pharma

Big Pharma: How the World’s Biggest Drug Companies Control Illness

By Jacky Law

Constable and Robinson Ltd (2006)

Book Review

In the ten years since British journalist Jacky Law published Big Pharma, the only good news is growing public awareness of the drug industry’s negative effect on human health. There’s no question the wealth and power of the pharmaceutical industry has vastly increased with the enactment of Obamacare in 2010. The latter grants major federal subsidies to both the insurance and drug industry.

Law carefully unpacks the fundamentals that position Big Pharma’s profits at the very top of Fortune 500 companies. In 2001, for example, they were number one, earning profits equal to 16-18% of sales. The banking industry was a distance second at 13.5%. While other Fortune 500 companies averaged 3.3%.

She attributes these obscene profits mainly to inflated prices Big Pharma charges Americans (as much as 5-10 times as much as in other countries), their deliberate efforts to bury and/or spin negative research, their bribing of doctors (with gifts, free lunch, training junkets and consultant fees) and medical journals (with glossy high priced ads), the refusal of the FDA to regulate pharmaceuticals (see FDA Now Completely Sold Out to Big Pharma) and direct to consumer ads aimed at convincing healthy people they need medical attention.

She devotes a whole chapter to “disease mongering,” Big Pharma’s deliberate creation of fictitious illnesses such as menopause, serotonin deficiency, post luteal dysphoric disorder and female sexual desire disorder. This is a topic I blog about frequently. See The Multibillion Dollar Depression Industry, Drug Companies: Killing Kids for Profit, Wyeth and the Multimillion Dollar Menopause Industry and Menopause Made in the USA

She also details studies dating back to 1982 revealing that low fat diets don’t decrease cardiovascular disease, as well as studies from 1992 revealing that cholesterol lowering drugs (statins) don’t reduce mortality. Thanks to the deliberate harassment and demonization of the researchers responsible for these studies, this information has only come into public view in the last two years. See Why the Low Fat Diet Makes You Fat (and Gives You Heart Disease, Cancer and Tooth Decay

Law is also highly critical of the role the pharmaceutical industry has played in minimizing the importance of poor nutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals in causing illness. She finds it extremely ironic (and immoral) that the federal government is clamping down on health supplements instead of environmental toxins.

The Drug Shortage Scandal

pills

This morning I was intrigued to learn that the US has been experiencing regular shortages of anesthetics, painkillers, antibiotics, cancer treatments, heart drugs and other lifesaving medications. Doctors routinely deal with these shortages by “rationing.” In other words, deciding which patients are more deserving of treatment.

Although the problem has been going on a decade or more, most doctors don’t inform patients when they withhold clinically indicated treatments. Prior to a January 29 New York Times article Drug shortages forcing hard decisions on rationing treatment, the American public was also totally in the dark.

Did you know there was a Drug Shortages Summit in 2011 to address this public health emergency? I sure didn’t. Nor did I know know about the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA) Congress passed four years ago to address the crisis.

The FDA Solution: A New App

A recent examination of the FDA website, which lists nearly 100 current drug shortages, suggests FDASIA isn’t working that well. However taxpayers will be pleased to learn the FDA has created a new app for android devices that sends alerts when the Agency adds or updates shortage information. They are currently working on an iOS version, which will be available soon.

The New York Times article profiles several doctors who talk about the difficulty of deciding which patients are more worthy of treatment. Some institutions have formal committees that include ethicists and patient representatives to decide which patients receive a needed drug — and which do not.

A February 8 Times editorial waffles about the “root cause” of the drug shortage crisis. Their list of possible causes includes “manufacturing quality and compliance problems, raw material sourcing, and drug company consolidation and business decisions that result in the discontinuation of critical drugs.”

M.E. Markowski is far more direct in a 2012 Harvard Law School paper The Problem of Inadequate Profits. Markowski states, in essence, that pharmaceutical companies have no profit incentive to create a sufficient supply of essential medications to meet patient need.

Unbelievable. The US spends twice as much (per capita) as any other country. Drug company profits are soaring. Meanwhile patients are dying because they can’t get medications they need for life threatening conditions.

The Solution is Easy

Although the OECD ranks New Zealand far below the US in economic standing (20th as opposed to 4th), we don’t suffer from major drug shortages here. Like all other industrial countries (except for the US), we have a national health service. In this country, drug availability isn’t determined by drug companies seeking to increase their profits. In New Zealand Pharmac, a government agency staffed by health professionals, makes all our drug purchasing decisions.

Photo credit: J. Troha (Photographer) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Cancer Conspiracy

Cancer: the Forbidden Cures

Messimo Mazzucco (2010)

Film Review

Cancer: the Forbidden Cures examines the deliberate effort, by the medical establishment and Big Pharma, to suppress non-phamaceutical cancer treatments. According to filmmaker Messimo Mazzucco, this is the main reason there have been no innovations in cancer treatment in the last hundred years.

Treating cancer is a big business, worth more than $50 million a year – despite the extremely poor track record of conventional cancer treatment. Both radiation therapy and chemotherapy are carcinogenic (i.e. cause cancer). Moreover because both shut down the immune system, it’s common, particularly with chemotherapy, for the treatment to kill the patient before the cancer does. According to Mazzucco, at most 5% of patients “cure” their cancer with chemotherapy.

The documentary begins by tracing how Rockefeller, Carnegie and J. P. Morgan, as barons of the chemical industry (which would morph into the pharmaceutical industry) facilitated the corporate takeover of modern medicine. Prior to 1900, American doctors mainly relied on natural healing methods involving diet and herbs, as many Asian countries still do today. All this changed after World War I when the chemical barons used their wealth and influence to win seats on the boards of major medical schools, as well as taking over the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Bureau of Chemistry (which became the Food and Drug Administration in 1927).

By the 1930s, the AMA had achieved a monopoly on medical licensing in all forty-eight states. This meant that only AMA-approved doctors, trained exclusively in drug treatments, could legally practice medicine. By 1990, the pharmaceutical industry also controlled most medical research. This was thanks to systematic cutbacks in National Institutes of Health (NIH) research that began in 1980 under Reagan administration.

The remainder of the film is a celebration of cancer pioneers who have put their livelihoods, careers and often their lives on the line to offer (often at no charge) alternative cancer treatments. Over the last hundred years, dozens of “natural” cancer treatments have successfully treated hundreds of thousands of patients.  Mazzucco believes if these treatments were widely available, cancer mortality could be reduced by 50%.*

Of the treatments listed below, laetrile and bicarbonate are the most controversial, as both have a very narrow margin between the therapeutic and toxic dose. They should only be used under professional supervision.

Essaic – first developed by Canadian nurse Rene Caisse (1988-1978) in the 1920s based on herbal treatments she learned from the local Ojibwe tribe. In the 1930s the county council allotted her a free clinic on condition that her patients were diagnosed by a licensed doctors and treated free of charge. After successfully treating thousands of patients, she lost the clinic when she refused to sell her treatment by to a group of American “entrepreneurs” for one million dollars.** In 1958, Senator John Kennedy’s doctor Charles Brush referred Essiac to Sloan Kettering Cancer Research Center to be evaluated for FDA. The research never happened.

Hoxsey therapy – Texas businessman Harry Hoxsey (1901-1974) was the first to treat human beings with an herbal remedy his great-grandfather had used successfully to treat cancer in horses. Hoxsey set up clinics offering free cancer treatment in seventeen states for nearly twenty-five years. Thanks to his phenomenal success rate, he somehow eluded all attempts to prosecute him (for practicing medicine without a license). One prosecutor who had arrested him a hundred times secretly brought his brother in treatment and (following the brother’s recovery) became Hoxsey’s defense lawyer. When Hoxsey request an FDA review of his treatment (for possible approval), the head of the AMA, Dr Morris Fishbein offered to buy the rights to Hoxsey’s formula. When Hoxsey refused, Fishbein spearingheaded a nationwide media campaign depicting Hoxsey as a dangerous quack. After Hoxsey successfully sued both Fishbein and the Hearst newspaper empire for libel, the FDA padlocked all his clinics. In 1963, he helped one of his nurses set up a Hoxsey clinic in Tijuana Mexico.

Gerson therapy – Dr Max Gerson (1881-1959) believed his nutrition-based cancer treatment, consisting of a non-meat diet of raw and cooked vegetables and juices, improved immune function by reducing the “acidity” associate with a meat diet. In 1946, and five patients he had cured testified before Congress in support of the Pepper-Neely Anti-Cancer Bill. The latter would have appropriated one hundred million dollars to research novel cancer treatments. After being banned from practicing or publishing in the US, he published his research in German medical journals and saw patients privately in his apartment. Following his death, his daughter Charlotte set up a Gerson clinic in Mexico. His followers have also established Gerson clinics in Germany, Spain and Japan. See Rethinking Cancer Treatment

• Shark Cartilage – In the early nineties Dr William Lane pioneered the use of shark cartilage in treating cancer owing to its antiangenic properties (i.e. it suffocates the cancer by blocking the formation of blood vessels to supply it). Despite efforts by FDA and American Cancer Society to discredit the treatment, pharmaceutical companies are vigorously competing with one another to isolate the specific therapeutic agent in the lab.

• Mistletoe – First proposed by Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925) as a cancer treatment, owing to its immune modulating properties, 100 years ago. Enormously popular in Europe, where Druids worshiped it for its miraculous healing properties. Although mistletoe doesn’t occur naturally in the US, it’s currently being studied as a cancer treatment at John Hopkins Medical School.

• Laetrile (aka Vitamin B17) – Laetrile, derived from apricot and peach pits, was first proposed as a cancer remedy in the late 1800s. Dr Ernest Krebs Jr first brought it to public attention in the 1970s. Practitioners who have prescribed it have found it effective in treating breast, lung, collar and prostate cancer. It’s believed to work by releasing cyanide and benzaldehyde when it comes in contact with cancer cells. The FDA banned it in 1977 after it was linked with several cases of cyanide poisoning.

• Sodium bicarbonate – first developed as a cancer treatment by conventionally trained Italian doctor and oncologist Tullio Simoncini. Simoncini believes cancer is merely the body’s reaction to an internal candida infection. He believes bicarb works by suppressing the infection, as the fungus only thrives in an acid environment. Because large oral doses of bicarb can be very dangerous, Simoncini infuses it through a catheter to blood vessels adjacent to the tumor. In 2003 he was stripped of his medical license and in 2006 he was given a 3 year suspended sentence for fraud and wrongful death after one of his patients die of alkalosis from an overdose of bicarbonate.


*This 2010 documentary predates a flood of research about the anti-cancer effect of high cannabidiol (high CBD) cannabis.
**They refused to agree to Caisse’s condition that they offer Essiac to patients the treatment free of charge.