Thursday, October 17, 2013

Big Pharma drugging our children. Socialized medicine is the answer

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

We are all familiar with the plethora of new diseases around today. I mentioned a couple the other day, Restless Leg Syndrome for example and the epidemic of Erectile Dysfunction among males 15 and above.  These syndromes offer lucrative profit making opportunities for the sickness industrial complex, especially the drug companies. 

The sickness industrial complex in the US doesn’t react to these co-called diseases; it creates them.   Americans that go to Europe will notice, if they watch any TV over there, that there is an absence of ads for prescription medicines with the familiar line, “Call your doctor and ask if Viagra is right for you.” These pitches by the drug companies are illegal in Europe. I have a friend who is a retired pediatrician here.  She told me she once got a call from a patient about a disease she had not yet heard of---her patient heard about it on TV.

Along with the health and hospital industry, the drug companies, or big Pharma as they are collectively known, determine the nature of the US health care system that is the most inefficient and expensive of all the advanced capitalist economies eating up around 18% of US GDP.  This industry wants to keep health care a commodity and in the private sector.

I was thinking about this with regard to the commentary my friend wrote about forced medication or “Involuntary Psychiatric Drugging”. She tells the story of her son who has been diagnosed with a “serious mental illness” and, like so many of us who break under the pressures of a sick society end up in jail or through the Revolving door of county and state mental health hospitals” as she puts it.

I am no expert on the mental health system but the power and corrupt influence of Big Pharma on the US health care system is clear for all to see.  Drug companies don’t spend billions pushing their drugs on TV because it doesn’t work.  I was reading about this disease, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder or ADHD as it is known.  Business Week points out that throughout the US, “diagnoses” for ADHD are “soaring”.  The symptoms of ADHD are “Inattention, over activity and impulsiveness”.  As more kids exhibit these tendencies, the sickness industrial complex makes sure it screens a wider section of that population for more sick children

A big pusher of ADHD drugs is a drug manufacturer named Shire and more than 90% of this Dublin Ireland based (that doesn’t mean its Irish) firm’s sales are in the US market.  The advertising and bribing of doctors by Big Parma has lead to the doubling of revenue for the stimulants used to treat ADHD since 2007, Shire’s 2012 revenue selling ADHD drugs in the US hit $1.8 billion so there’s money to be made in sickness for sure.  Perhaps the most well known is Ritalin. It seems to me that much of the increase in mass killings and family annihilations are connected to the drugging of the population as the go to response for social alienation, TV, etc.

Shire wants to duplicate the profit making success of its US ADHD drug Vyvanse in Europe.  Introducing what these drug pushers refer to as “blockbuster” drugs is very similar to the launching of a new line of cosmetics or auto.  They all possess the same quality after all; they are commodities. The problem is that Shire has to convince Europeans that “the condition exists” writes BusinessWeek. Not being able to convince us through slick TV ads every five minutes doesn’t help; “There’s been a great deal of resistance to even believing there’s a disease” says Mary Baker, president of a non-profit representing forces working on “neurology and psychiatry issues” Among the interested parties working on these issues is the drug manufacturer Shire.  They are interested in psychiatry and neurological issues among humans but with a caveat; there has to be profit in it.

Having doctors in their pay and access to potential victims through television ads has been good business for Big Pharma in the US.  This is the leading market for prescription medicine and with some 10% of US school age children already afflicted with the disease and screening on the increase, the Pharma execs are salivating at the chance of finding more sick kids and the profits that will ensue with increased sales of stimulants.

It’s revealing to read the serious journals of capitalism like Business Week which is owned by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg who’s worth about $20 billion.  BW recognizes the problem that Shire has in Europe.  It has to negotiate with governments to agree on “pricing and reimbursement” but it’s hard to negotiate successfully when you have limited access to the users of your commodity, in this case parents of the young victims, “One challenge will be fuelling demand without “advertising to parents” Business Week notes adding that, “direct-to-consumer ads”….are a “mainstay of drug marketing in the US.”

Think about it for as minute; we are talking about what we are supposed to believe is a disease here.  An entity that claims to exist for the purpose of improving human health has to create a demand for its cure; it has to add some fuel to the mix; in other words, it will have to find sick people. If they can't find them, they'll create them.

Because they can’t get access to parents through TV in Europe, “Shire is discussing the prevalence of the illness with doctors at psychiatry conferences across the continent” says BW and we all know what that entails don’t we. Shouldn’t it be the other way around: doctors telling a health concern what is best treatment for patients or whether there is an actual physiological or neurological problem at all. “The next two years is going to be a significant educational effort on our part,” Shire CEO Fleming Ornskov adds, “The climate in Europe is a bit more negative. It will take us some time.”

Marketing, that’s the problem.

Whether the climate in Europe is more negative than the US is a matter of opinion. I, for one would say it’s more positive as the power of the corporation to manipulate the consumer on this is is weaker there. The power of the corporation to bribe doctors is weaker there.  The fact that critics of this drugging of young American by big Pharma children for what is often simply normal behavior, is not a negative thing. It is a good thing.  A British psychiatrist, Sami Timimi, who wrote a book (which I have not read so I’m not endorsing it) Rethinking ADHD: From Brain to Culture thinks that in the US, doctors over diagnose.  Timimi objects that in the US, child behavior is treated as a medical condition; “The first-line treatment for all people should be psychosocial approaches,” he tells BusinessWeek.  Silly man, that’s not just negative, it involves all sorts of time consuming activity and isn’t as profitable.  What does he think drug companies are providing here----a social service?  Time is money.

The vast majority of Americans, even those who consider themselves patriotic, know only too well that here in the US, the weak get stomped on; the market is a brutal agency.  The mentally ill are sent to prison and even executed.  In the last year, the city of Chicago, which is not only closing down public schools on the way to privatizing education, closed down six of its twelve mental health clinics in order to save money.  Three jail systems, Cook County (Chicago) Los Angeles County and New York City have more than 11,000 prisoners under treatment on any given day according to the Wall Street Journal. “In every city and state I have visited, the jails have become the de facto mental institutions.” Says Esteban Gonzalez, president of the American Jail Association.

We can only imagine the treatment afforded these people in society. Even the most well intentioned jailer or mental institution employee is not equipped to deal with this situation. In capitalist society, caring for the sick, an important social service, is not business friendly.

Health care is a right and we have made incredible advances in it.  But in the US especially it is dominated by money; it is a business like any other.  This restricts human development and human wellness; what are the side effects of all this doping of children?  

And all the ills of a continent like Africa, starvation, infant mortality, life expectancy and dying from diseases that we cured long ago, have nothing to do with lack of know how or resources and everything to do with allocation of capital and resources toward public health and social infrastructure, sewage systems, clean drinking water, hospitals education etc. The problem is we do not own and control these resources, capitalists do and they do not allocate resources unless itr's profitable.  Not enough profit, you starve and the money goes somewhere else.

We must demand health care be a public service and the entire industry be under workers control and management, scientists, researchers, doctors, nurses, orderlies, patients etc. Health care must be provided as needed not on ability to pay. The health industry from the hospitals to the research labs, the device makers and the pharmaceutical industry must be taken in to public ownership also.

Let’s get capitalism out of health care.

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