Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What's Pharma Up To? Profits vs. Safety

A couple of news items these past couple of days reveal what the drug industry is up to--and what it isn't. (A reminder for newcomers--this blog is not about industry-bashing, it's mostly about medical-profession-bashing, arguing that many of the ethical problems at the interface between medicine and the pharmaceutical industry could best be resolved by a higher level of professionalism, and less greed, on medicine's part. But every once in a while we need to take a look on the other side of the fence to see what's going on there.)

First we see from the LA Times--
--how the industry is busy pulling out all the lobbying stops to make sure that any budget deal that passes Congress will not put a crimp in their profits. Some folks in Congress who want results and not political posturing have noted that demanding what seem to be reasonable discounts for government health care programs, for escalating drug costs, could save $112B over the next decade. The industry wants to put a quick stop to any such talk. So far, it's working.

The next question is what the industry is doing with its profits. Apparently, not assuring drug safety, according to a report recently released by the Pew Health Group and kindly summarized by our friends at PostScript:
Basic bottom line is that a bunch of people died from contaminated Heparin a few years back, traced to shoddy ingredients from a Chinese factory. Since then everything has gotten worse--40 percent of all finished drug products, and 80 percent of the ingredients used to make drugs for the US market, now come from overseas, yet the industry's ability to trace the origins of those ingredients, and the FDA's ability to inspect the plants that make them, remain virtually nonexistent. You'd expect Congress to be indifferent when people in other countries die because of bad drugs, yet to sit up and take notice when some Americans die. Apparently that wake up call didn't happen. Certainly, left unregulated, the industry has no intention of changing present practices. As the Community Catalyst group that worked with Pew reported with a quote from a major brand name drug firm, it's all about how cheaply one can make the product.

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