Until November 2010, an opioid painkiller called Darvocet (Dextropropoxyphene) had been prescribed to millions of people since the 1950s, despite its known risks for overdose and heart arrhythmia. It remained on the market for decades, despite multiple attempts by safety groups to ban it. Pfizer’s anti-smoking drug Chantix is aggressively advertised and widely prescribed in the U.S., even though it consistently lands on lists of the most dangerous drugs in the U.S. and receives the FDA strongest possible warnings. DePuy Orthodpaedics manufactures an all-metal hip implant system that scores of patients blame for serious injuries stemming from the device’s early failure and metal poisoning. Why are dangerous drugs and devices quick to be approved but so slow to be banned once their dangers become known?
It’s a simple question with a complex answer, but one sure part of this problem is the enormous influence the corporate lobby has on regulatory agencies designed to protect us from these very dangers flooding our healthcare system.
The organization United Republic recently published a graph that shows just what a wise investment lobbying efforts are for the pharmaceutical industry.
“Let’s say you’re a powerful industry that wants to make a lot of money with an enormous Return On Investment (ROI),” United Republic says. “One way you could do so it by investing in lobbyists.”
The graph illustrates that the ordinary American investing in one blue chip stock can expect an 11-percent ROI . Big oil giants like BP lobbying for oil subsidies can expect an ROI of about 5,900 percent. Multinational corporations lobbying for bigger tax breaks get an ROI of 22,000 percent.
But Big Pharma rakes it in. By lobbying to keep drug prices artificially high, drug companies have received a 77,500-percent ROI.
United Republic arrives at that figure by taking the amount big pharmaceutical lobbyists invested in lobbying efforts to bar Medicare from bargaining for competitive drug prices — $116 million — and calculating that successful effort against how much money the industry has earned as a result. So far, that initial $116 million investment has yielded a return of $90 billion per year.
If Big Pharma can lobby $90 billion in taxpayer money per year out of the nearly bankrupt Medicare program, then getting hundreds of untested Class 2 medical devices or inadequately tested drugs to market ought to be a piece of cake, and it is. And once they’re on the market, they’re generally slow to go away.
Usually some years-long studies are ordered, allowing the harmful devices and drugs to remain on the market. By the time those studies have concluded and the product is deemed unreasonably dangerous and recalled, court settlements with victims and their families are usually less than the profits those products made.
Even Vioxx was still profitable after its manufacturer Merck & Co. agreed to pay a record $4.85 billion to resolve all claims involving that drug.