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By Charlie Hu

Big Pharma

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. – Article 25, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

 One prevailing characteristic of 21st century life has been the unrelenting exploitation of human necessity perpetrated by corporations and their puppet-government stooges. In this space we have discussed this trend and it’s disastrous effect on the housing situation in the U.S. ( We now turn to the issue of health care, pharmaceutical drugs in particular, where industry greed and Washington legislation have made the drug business extraordinarily profitable. Predictably these profits are mostly made through the sale of vital medications, which are unattainable for many and an excessive economic burden for those who can afford them. Big Pharma projects an image of itself as a benevolent purveyor of life-saving medicine but closer scrutiny reveals a powerful monster possessing the potential to both improve and ignore millions of lives.

Over the past 6 years the pharmaceutical business has been the most profitable in the U.S., surpassing banks, oil and military equipment. With annual sales currently exceeding $450 billion Big Pharma has the ability to field a massive lobbying team in Washington. There are more lobbyists on the Big Pharma payroll in Washington than there are Congressional representatives. This buys Big Pharma the ears and pens of their government friends in the form of among other things, protectionist regulations (blocking cheap imports) and plenty of tax-payer funded Research and Development money.

Through these salad days of profitability for Big Pharma, national spending on prescription drugs has increased 20% each year. Marketing budgets for drug companies have also increased in synchronized leaps. In a cunning slight of hand, drug companies have driven prices higher, effectively fooling us into subsidizing their ad campaigns to sell us more drugs.

And the thing that can drive even the most hardcore optimist to reach for the Prozac is that there is no end in sight to the climate of profit-first practice in the field of medicine. The lack of a single-payer plan in the recent Medicare revisions proves the pull of the industry. If the government was the sole purchaser of pharmaceutical drugs it could use its market power to keep prices low, an unacceptable condition for Big Pharma. The $150 million/year lobby bill will pay itself back several-fold (with our dough) based on that boon alone. Money and profit dictate the market and affordable prescription drugs do not contribute positively to these aims.

Another casualty in the profit war is the lack of research and development money devoted to widespread scourges such as cancer and diabetes. With a majority of research dollars earmarked for ‘profitable’ treatments (like erectile dysfunction), advancements in medicine have been slowed.

Big Pharma collectively has the power to eradicate many global epidemics and drastically reduce others. For all the gestures of ‘free’ drugs and multi-billion dollar promises from the U.S. President, a single action would open up the delivery of vital medicine globally. The World Trade Organization TRIPS agreement makes it illegal under threat of sanction for a company to produce and sell a generic version of a drug. Generic drugs have precisely the same chemical makeup of their expensive counterparts. If this intellectual property rights agreement is rescinded governments could realistically begin to plan to acquire or produce life-saving medications. Big Pharma is staunchly opposed to such a change as billions and billions of dollars are made off the misery of the sick. If drug companies in India, China or Brazil could produce quality drugs at a mere fraction of the cost, Big Pharma’s hustle would be over.

To see a change here in the U.S., the influence Big Pharma wields in the political world will have to be contested and ceased. Health care is a human right and not a commodity to be bought and bargained with. When people need to share medications and others subsist without, everyone must unite in an attempt to transform this destructive monster into a universal healer. 

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