Big Pharma’s Greed

Front-page news from American Free Press Issue 5 & 6: Drug peddlers ring in 2019 with price increases and funerals. Subscribers can log in now and read your digital version of the paper, AFP Online. Not yet a digital subscriber? Click here.

By Dave Gahary

While the Top 10 CEOs of some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world have pay packages averaging $30 million a year, average Americans who depend on the products these masters of industry sell are dying to buy their drugs, literally. And this is not new to 2019. Ordinary Americans who can’t afford the thousands of dollars it costs to stay alive have been dying for decades, as a direct result of the massive price increases Big Pharma has been getting away with since that time.

Take 26-year-old Alec Smith from Minnesota, a type 1 diabetic.

Because of his condition, Smith was required to take insulin every day, which was not an issue when he was on his parents’ health insurance. But when he turned 26, he was forced off their insurance policy and became responsible for the $1,300 a month it cost for him to stay alive. Unable to afford the insulin, Smith began rationing, which resulted in him falling into a diabetic coma. He died alone in his apartment.

This tragedy is made much worse, because the inventors of the 97-year-old medication, synthetic insulin, “sold the patent for about $3 to get the drug to as many diabetics as possible.” But drug makers have gotten around patent expirations like this by making small tweaks to their products, allowing them to keep patent protection ongoing for years, to the detriment of those whose lives depend on these medications. As an example, the price of insulin tripled from 2002 to 2013, with three of the top manufacturers hiking the price at least 10 times over the past decade.

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For the more than 1,000 drugs whose prices are being raised this year, the average increase will be around 6%, incredibly a much smaller percentage price hike than in previous years. In 2018, there were around “2,100 price increases with a median increase of 9%, compared to just under 1,400 hikes with a typical jump of 9.1% a year earlier,” according to a stock market analyst.

Drug powerhouse Allergan, whose CEO Brenton L. Saunders brought home nearly $40 million last year, raised prices on over half its portfolio—51 drugs—on Jan. 1. “Some 27 medications saw a 9.5% jump and the rest a 4.9% increase,” reported CBS News.

For Americans who have watched their real wages steadily decline for over three decades and have been forced to spend over half a trillion dollars on prescription medications in 2018, this is a most unwelcome trend.

While straight-out price gouging is adding to the daily misery of millions of Americans, shortages and recalls are also leading drug makers to raise prices.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 18 that numerous drug manufacturers “have sharply boosted prices of some older, low-cost prescription medicines amid supply shortages and recalls—in some cases, by threefold and more.”

The paper highlighted the popular blood-pressure drug valsartan, which has seen its price skyrocket “since a series of safety-related recalls of the drug by other manufacturers began last summer.” A Houston retiree who was paying $13 for a 90-day supply of the drug is now forced to pay over $100. Even worse, the muscle relaxant methocarbamol saw one supplier raise the price of a bottle from $8.49 to $105 due to an alleged “supply shortage.”

“Of the nearly 120 drugs listed by the Food and Drug Administration as currently or recently in shortage,” reports the Journal, “about one-third had price increases after the shortages started.”

President Donald J. Trump has made reining in drug price increases a top priority, and his administration issued a 44-page plan last year on his “vision for increasing competition, reducing regulations and changing incentives for players in the industry.”

Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, prevailed in a suit brought by the New York Stock Exchange in an attempt to silence him. Dave is the producer of an upcoming full-length feature film about the attack on the USS Liberty. See erasingtheliberty.com for more information and to get the new book on which the movie will be based, Erasing the Liberty.