Big Pharma and Their Agenda 

Photo from Yes! Magazine.

I am constantly buying prescription medications. Is it because I like walking to the store? Of course not. Like millions of other Americans, I do this because my life depends on it. Even though these tiny pills are a vital part of people’s lives, major pharmaceutical companies, or Big Pharma, insist on high prices. Drug companies claim that the profits go into the funding for research and development; however, drug companies often spend just as much or even twice as much money on marketing. Instead of focusing on making the drugs accessible for people who need them, Big Pharma actually concentrates on trying to profit off the drugs. The same year, the CEOs of the major pharmaceutical companies Allergan, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer Inc earned a total of $90 million

Big Pharma receives assistance from the federal government, making these high prices especially out of control. For example, the National Institute of Health (NIH), a sector of the US Department of Health and Human Services, invested over $100 billion from 2010 to 2016 that resulted in the discovery of 210 approved drugs. The government also gives companies tax breaks from these research discoveries. According to the federal research and development tax credit, companies can benefit if they are making attempts to manufacture new drugs or treatments. So, even though pharmaceutical companies are receiving grants for research and development, they are claiming that the high costs of drugs are due to the same exact reason. How does that make sense? 

By focusing on making profits for pharmaceutical companies, Big Pharma is putting people’s lives at risk. A very unfortunate yet common example is insulin. For people with diabetes, it is a necessity. Having high blood sugar for too long can result in permanent damage to the eyes, nerves, kidneys, and blood vessels, or result in death through heart issues or a stroke. By using insulin, diabetics can keep their blood sugar levels in check. For this reason, insulin is not a choice for diabetics – it’s a necessity. However, NovaLog, the brand name for insulin aspart (a specific type of insulin that acts quickly) is sold at anywhere between $14 and 300 a vial in the United States. In comparison, in Singapore, it costs $48, $14 in India, $6 in Austria, and $0 in Italy and other European countries. 

NovoLog’s insulin aspart injection. Photo from WBRC.

Apart from high prices, drug companies attempt to profit by monopolizing their drugs through patents. Big Pharma uses “evergreening,” which is the process of using legal and business tactics to extend a patent that is about to expire. For example, if a patent for a drug is about to expire, the pharmaceutical company will add a stripe to the pill or slightly alter its chemical composition to prevent the drug patent from entering public domain. Evergreening blocks other companies, especially smaller ones, from manufacturing the drug which would make the drug more accessible and cheaper. 

When the federal government attempted to create legislation to allow drug negotiation for Medicaid patients, Big Pharma spent over $100 million on lobbyists. They claimed that by reducing their prices, they would “kill innovation.” However, Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, who leads the program on Regulation, Therapeutics, and Law at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says that since 1906, Big Pharma has used the same exact rebuttal, and it has never been true

There is no doubt it is impossible to both maximize profits and save as many lives as possible. And, pharmaceutical companies have chosen to focus on maximizing their own profits. There must be a “fundamental extension in morality.” And right now, there is no morality in any of the decisions Big Pharma has made, and Americans have no choice but to succumb to Big Pharma and pay in order to live. In 2018 alone, Americans spent $535 billion on prescription drugs, and 58 million adults reported to be unable to pay for necessary drugs in 2019. In my mind, there is no doubt that Big Pharma is responsible for millions of deaths related to the lack of access to medicine. 

This article was edited by Anagha Aneesh, Masha Kilibarda, and August Muller. 

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