It used to be – still is, at least in the dictionary – that ethical drugs were those that required a doctor’s prescription.
Today? The term “ethical drugs” is devolving into an oxymoron.
Three years ago, the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis paid $443 million to settle charges it bribed doctors with entertainment, travel, consultancies, and speaking engagements to get them to prescribe its drugs. Novartis promised never to do it again.
Last week, the company was sued by New York state for doing all that and worse – like giving kickbacks to pharmacies — to promote an immune suppressant called Myfortic and a few other drugs.
And last year, as the New York Times reported in an editorial, GlaxoSmith-Klein paid a $3 billion fine for health fraud, and two other companies paid $1.5 billion or more.
The Times thinks stronger remedies are needed – like excluding certain drugs or their makers from selling to Medicare or Medicaid after a criminal settlement.
The rest of us are left to wonder – where is all this money coming from?
You get a prescription and buy a drug (or you don’t – it hardly matters because you’re going to pay for it anyway). What, exactly, are you financing?
First, you’re paying for the actual drug – including the costs of developing and marketing it.
That includes the millions spent on TV ads and on glorious packaging.
And the illegal bribes and other goodies for a few judas-goat prescribing doctors.
And kickbacks for a few conniving pharmacies.
And the armies of lobbyists they pay to get these crimes declared legal.
And the New York law firms the drug company hires if it gets caught.
And the huge fines they have to pay – that’s your money they’re using.
And the inflated healthcare insurance premiums the HMOs have to charge because drugs are getting so expensive.
And rising Medicare premiums – same reason.
And the higher taxes we’ll all pay to keep Medicare solvent.
That’s ten times you’ve paid for a drug you aren’t even using.
But if you get really lucky and contract the very disease this drug was designed to cure – why, just think! Naah. By that time, you won’t have any money left to pay for it.