Guest Post: Why We Should Examine Big Pharma Closely

This post was written by Morgan Statt, a reader. Let this serve as a reminder: if you’d like to contribute work to the blog, just drop us a line at pleasecutthecrap(at)gmail(dot)com… I can’t pay you, but our readership will increase, if past election years are any indication…

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This year, healthcare continues to be a major part of the Trump Administration’s focus. We see increased efforts to combat the opioid crisis, discussions of mental health support in the wake of the Florida school shooting, and a dismantling of Obama-era policies outlined in the Affordable Care Act.

In a time of divisiveness across party lines, there is also dissent between federal and state governments when it comes to American healthcare. More and more states are investing in Obamacare marketing initiatives and are weighing whether or not to offer their own version of the individual mandate, a requirement the Trump administration has repealed at the federal level.

If we go even further into the weeds of healthcare, we see the pharmaceutical industry being shoved into the spotlight.  2018 will likely be the year of the opioid lawsuits; over 100 public entities have filed suits against drug companies for their involvement in today’s epidemic.

As addictions and overdose-related deaths continue to rise, an argument can be made for taking a closer look at the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. With a direct role in the development, marketing, and access to medications and life-saving treatments, current practices of Big Pharma stand to undermine the sole focus of the healthcare discussion today: providing patients with the best possible medical care they can receive.

There’s no doubt that we’ll be seeing more changes to our healthcare coverage as the year progresses. But, perhaps we should urge lawmakers to look more closely at the very industry that has the greatest impact on our lives. Here are two areas where Big Pharma can strive to improve upon.

The first area of concern lies in the ability of drug companies to fund their own clinical trials. Funding for drug studies has typically come from independent organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but a recent analysis by Johns Hopkins University discovered a decline in this type of sponsorship. From 2006 to 2014, the number of independently funded trials dipped, paving the way for drug studies to instead be sponsored by the pharmaceutical company who actually manufactured the medication.

Although any type of funding can do good things by helping to foster innovation and bring more drugs to patients, pharmaceutical companies’ bottom lines are often a main priority of the clinical trials. With financial interest in study outcomes, an opportunity for bias is created that could lead to the positive impact of a drug overshadowing any potential negative side effects.

This was the case for the experimental blood thinner Xarelto. Due to the nature of the drug, anticoagulants already pose a certain degree of risk for internal bleeding complications because they make your blood less susceptible to clotting. But during Xarelto’s clinical trial ROCKET-AF, a defective blood-testing device was used that caused the medication to appear safer than the traditional anticoagulant warfarin. Knowing this data could impact the trial, manufacturers Johnson & Johnson and Bayer concealed the information. The FDA went on to approve the medication in 2011 under supposed safety advantages and without an antidote to reverse the drug’s blood-thinning effects.

What ensued were severe internal bleeding complications and even death for thousands of patients because of Xarelto’s heightened degree of safety risks. In addition to opioid lawsuits defining courtroom proceedings in 2018, this year will likely bring more strife to the pharmaceutical industry; Xarelto’s manufacturers face thousands of personal injury and wrongful death claims because of the drug’s complications.

Then, there’s the issue of Big Pharma’s lobbying efforts that stand to impede patient safety. Out of all the industries that work to persuade lawmakers on a variety of issues, the pharmaceutical/health industry is the sector of business that spends the most each year. Between 2016 and 2017, the industry increased its lobbying spend by 12.4 percent, a change that is a frequent occurrence year after year.

Although lobbying is traditionally intended to serve as an avenue for citizens to have their concerns and opinions voiced to members of Congress, Big Pharma has since used it as a way to service its own business interests. In the case of the opioid crisis, lawmakers have attempted to pass regulations that would limit prescribing habits for opioid prescriptions. But The Pain Care Forum, funded by Big Pharma, spent $740 million in lobbying efforts to kill the bill. More recently, previous drug czar nominee Rep. Tom Marino had to withdraw after it was discovered that he received substantial amounts of funding from Big Pharma. With this persuasion, he helped pass a bill that impedes the DEA’s ability to go after those involved in irresponsible opioid distribution habits.

As the news outlets continue to provide insights into the latest healthcare discussions, let us consider taking a step back to analyze the industry with a direct tie to our overall health. Big Pharma is big business whose profits often overshadow initiatives aimed at providing public benefit. If we hope to take bigger strides in the right direction for our health, it’s time we reform the very workings of the business sector for the better.


Also published on Medium.