By Monica Young
March 22, 2011
Drug company corporate websites tell us of their integrity and utmost commitment to people’s health and well-being. The American Psychiatric Association’s website begins with “Healthy Minds. Healthy Lives” and asserts the “highest ethical standards of professional conduct.” Yet a mountain of evidence points to an entirely different picture.
Most recently, thirty-eight state attorneys won a $68.5 million settlement with pharmaceutical titan AstraZeneca for unlawful marketing of antipsychotic Seroquel for unapproved use. These states also charged this company with failing to disclose the drug’s harmful side effects and concealing negative information about its safety and efficacy. “The company’s illegal practices put our most vulnerable populations at risk, including children and older patients with dementia and other debilitating diseases,” states Illinois Attorney General. U.S. sales of Seroquel brought in $5.3 billion for AstraZeneca last year.
Looking further, it’s evident that the pharmaceutical industry is fraught with fraud. For instance, the new generation of antipsychotics is the single biggest target of the False Claims Act. Every major drug company selling the drugs has either settled recent government cases for hundreds of millions of dollars or is under investigation for health care fraud.
Psychiatric drugs are notoriously high-priced. A year’s supply of one top antipsychotic is $7,000. A recent Biosocieties (scientific journal) article, entitled, “Demythologizing the high costs of pharmaceutical research,” exposes that drug companies widely exaggerate research costs to justify these prices. These companies typically cite a 2003 industry-funded study to claim a tag of over $1 billion to research and bring a drug to market. A new independent analysis indicates the figure is closer to $55 million.
Meanwhile drug company CEOs are some of the most excessively paid CEOs on Wall Street. Johnson & Johnson CEO’s publicly reported total compensation for 2009 (the last report available) was $25.6 million, including salary, bonus, stock options and other perks. This is three times the average for CEOs of S&P 500 companies and over 500 times the median American household income. His base salary was raised this year, despite an ongoing lawsuit, backed by the Department of Justice, accusing J&J of involvement in a kickback scheme to push their antipsychotic on elderly nursing home residents.
Drug manufactures spend billions yearly on marketing and advertising, far beyond what they spend on research. Billions go into direct to consumer advertising which drums a mantra to the masses: “ask your doctor if (___ medication) is right for you.” Billions are poured into marketing to doctors, including via drug sales reps – one of the most lucrative sales jobs in the U.S.
One ex-drug sales rep, Shahram Ahari, told a Senate Aging Committee that on top of a base salary for starting reps of $50,000, “there were four quarterly bonuses, an annual bonus, stock options, a car, 401k, great health benefits, and a $60,000 expense account.” He said his job involved “rewarding physicians with gifts and attention for their allegiance to your product and company despite what may be ethically appropriate.”
Another former drug sales rep and author of Confessions of an RX Drug Pusher, Gwen Olsen, says it’s all about the money. She described her hiring process. When asked why she wanted to become a pharmaceutical sales rep, she said she wanted to help people. The regional manager replied, “If that’s the case, you might want to join the Peace Corps…But if money is what motivates you, young lady, let me tell you how you can retire a millionaire.” Gwen reports that every manager she worked for said children are their biggest and most profitable expansion market.
Psychiatrists cash in big time as drug-pushers. The faster they shuffle people in and out for 15-minute medication management visits, the more they fill their deep pockets.
A recent New York Times article “Talk Therapy Doesn’t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy,” gives an example of a practicing psychiatrist since 1972. He likens his office now to a bus station. In the old days of 45-minute talk sessions, “he knew his patients’ inner lives better than he knew his wife’s; now, he often cannot remember their names,” states the author. The doctor admits, “I had to train myself not to get too interested in their problems.”
And how much does the average psychiatrist make a year peddling drugs? $191,000.
Worldwide sales of antidepressants, stimulants, antianxiety and antipsychotic drugs exceed $82 billion a year. Yet for all the wealth this has brought these industries, are people truly getting better?
Psychiatric drugs have repeatedly proven to not only be extremely hazardous to one’s health but can be life-threatening and even fatal. Now the Archives of General Psychiatry has released scientific proof that antipsychotic drugs shrink brain tissue. (No wonder psychiatrists are called “shrinks”!)
Science journalist and author, Robert Whitaker, reports that long-term use of psychiatric medications is actually causing more mental illness – not less. He states “what you find with them when you look at long term outcomes, you see more people having chronic symptoms long term than you do in the unmedicated.”
Whitaker also points to disability statistics. Since the boom of psychiatric prescriptions began in 1987, adults on disability for mental illness more than tripled to 4 million. Amongst those on disability, the percentage of children has risen from about 5% in 1987 to over 50% today.
Of course the pill-pushers and their hordes of paid lobbyists, advocacy groups and spokesmen want us to believe that this means more mentally ill are finally getting the drug treatment they really need.
But who wants to believe a bunch of liars anyway?