According to a Gallup poll from earlier this month, the pharmaceutical industry is now the most poorly regarded institution in the country, ranking last on a list of 25 industries including the restaurant industry, retail industry and more. In previous years, the federal government had been the most negatively regarded, but this year, the government was rated 4 points higher than big pharma, which had a net positive rating of -31.
The cost of prescription drugs has skyrocketed in recent years. It’s pulled the price of general healthcare up, too, and compared to folks in nine other wealthy nations — Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom — Americans pay more per capita for prescription drugs.
While prices could be brought down by an increased prevalence of generic variants and biosimilars, defined by CNN business as “drugs that are identical to branded drugs but distributed by another company after the original patent expires,” large pharmaceutical firms do their best to diminish competition. Because, of course, the more competition, the less freedom they have to hike their prices up until only the wealthiest market can readily afford them.
But high prices are only the tip of the iceberg in the nefarious nature of the pharmaceutical industry.
This week, Purdue Pharma, the creator and mass distributor of OxyContin, filed for bankruptcy. The company negotiated a multi-million dollar settlement that would help resolve the thousands of lawsuits pending against it, which claim its painkillers and illegal opioids — heroin, for example — have resulted in the deaths of more than 400,000 people. Upward of 20 states have participated in the suit, and the general public consensus has identified the company as a key player in the creation of the nation’s opioid crisis.
Purdue has long since been accused of aggressively marketing opioid painkillers like OxyContin, and it was only in the last year that it announced it would stop marketing that pill to doctors. Until then, sales representatives would routinely visit the offices of medical practitioners to promote the prescription of the highly addictive drug. It was also sued in 2007 for allegedly marketing OxyContin as less addictive than competing products, which was as untrue as it was lethal.
Widespread abuse of opioids killed more than 40,000 people in 2016 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The role of the pharmaceutical industry in the manufacturing of this crisis is undeniable, and probably a large part of why Americans rated it so poorly on the Gallup poll.
The issues with pharmaceuticals are numerous and deep. The radically overpriced cost prohibits some people who need medication from getting it. Likewise, the aggressive marketing campaigns have, until very recently, landed it in the hands of some people who didn’t need it at all. It’s dangerous, and it ought to be kept in check and held responsible for the domino effect it has on public health.