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Profits Over People

In every society throughout history, there have been the healers. They sought to aid the sick, injured and dying, and often did so through the use of herbs, elixirs and medicines. Today, the making and distributing of drugs has evolved to become a hugely powerful and profitable industry that is too often divorced from the end goal of helping people.

Unfortunately, as our Boston dangerous drugs lawyers at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman know, the bottom line is not health but profits.

That’s why so many companies pay sizable sums to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to rush their products to market before conducting adequate safety and quality testing. It’s why many pharmaceutical firms are slashing their research and development budgets. It’s why some have been caught time and again concealing important information about potentially harmful side effects of their products.

Forbes reports pharmaceutical companies have higher profit margins than banks, car manufacturers, oil and gas producers and the media. And in the end, that is what has proven most important to them.

Drug Pricing

As the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services projected marked increases in health care costs for Americans over the next decade, drug companies are reporting ever-climbing profits. Particularly for firms releasing new “breakthrough drugs,” profits for these multi-billion dollar companies have shot up by more than 25 percent in a single year, in some cases.

Companies insist they have to charge premium prices because the cost of researching and developing new drugs is substantial. But many companies apply for – and are granted – Fast Track or Accelerated Approval from the FDA, which greatly reduces the amount of testing that has to be done on new drugs.

Then of course, there are examples of blatant greed, such as that displayed by former Turing Pharmaceuticals Chief Executive Martin Shkreli. After the company purchased a life-saving drug called Daraprim, which treats a relatively rare but deadly parasitic infection that mainly strikes pregnant women, cancer patients and those suffering from HIV/ AIDS, Shkreli brashly defended a 40-fold price-hike of the drug, from $18 a pill to $750 a bill. The course of a single treatment is 100 pills, which means the average patient now has to shell out $75,000 for a few bottles. The drug has no generic version, so there is no alternative. Why do this?

Because, according to Shkreli, “No one wants to say it, no one’s proud of it, but this is a capitalist society… And my investors expect me to maximize profits.”

But of course, Shkreli, who was widely-derided for his comments, is only a symptom of the bigger problem and of the culture of corporate drug companies. There are numerous examples, as detailed in a 2014 article in The New England Journal of Medicine, of companies buying the rights to older, inexpensive drugs and generic versions, blocking out competitors and then jacking up the prices. Examples include:

  • Albendazole, to treat some parasitic infections, approved in 1996, was sold in 2010 for about $6 a day. By 2013, the cost rose to $119.60 a day.
  • Gleevec, a leukemia drug that has garnered billions in profit for the manufacturer, charged $4,540 a month for the drug in 2014. By 2015, it was charging $8,500.

The U.S. is the only advanced company that allows drug companies to charge whatever they want. And so they do.

Illegal Marketing and Inadequate Warnings

While drug price gouging is deeply troubling, it’s perfectly legal. Where companies more frequently get in trouble with regulators and in civil litigation is with inadequate testing, inadequate warning and improper marketing.

According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $27 billion on drug promotion – with $24 billion spent marketing to doctors and another $3 billion taking their message directly to consumers.

There have also been numerous fines paid by companies for violating the law and endangering consumers. Some examples outlined by one BBC report include:

  • $3 billion against Glaxo SmithKline in 2012 for promoting Paxil for depression to minors under 18;
  • $2.3 billion against Pfizer in 2009 over misbranding painkiller Bextra;
  • $2.2 billion in 2013 against Johnson & Johnson for promoting drugs that were not approved as safe;
  • $1.5 billion against Abbott in 2012 for illegally promoting antipsychotic drug Depakote;
  • $1.4 billion against Eli Liley in 2012 for illegally promoting its antipsychotic drug, Zyprexa;
  • $950 million against Merck in 2011 for wrongful promotion of painkiller Vioxx.

There have also been allegations made at various civil trials that some drug companies colluded with chemists to highlight data that would support early release of their drugs, while downplaying the potential risks and side effects.

In the end, it’s the patients who pay the ultimate cost.

Contact the Boston personal injury lawyers at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman by calling (617) 367-2900.

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