by: Tristan Risk "Little Miss Risk"
I am one of the few lucky ones who rarely is ever taken out by a cold. Winter comes, and brings the latest in mutated flus that circulate the population, felling friends and foes alike, and generally I am fortunate enough that these plagues don't plague me. However, I know I'm on borrowed time, between handling money regularly, a highly active schedule, and a habit of performing harm-inducing dangerous acts, that I am acutely aware that my luck will one day stop short, and I will find myself requiring some kind of medical attention. Being Canadian, I've the benefit of a universal healthcare system, which I do not commonly use, but it is nice to know is there for when the day that fate is fickle. However, I can feel many of my neighbours to the south who are currently in danger of losing their own universal healthcare system, or 'Omaha-Care' to clarify for those who think the two things are independent of one another (and so help me, people do). But a recent study from CBC cites that even with our healthcare system, the way we are being sold pharmaceuticals suggests that we aren't much better off.
Pharmaceutical companies are not known for their altruism. While their products do the job, they all have a habit of behaving in a shady fashion, in proud snake-oil sales tradition. Considering the product alone isn't enough to bolster sales, drug companies often spend millions of dollars on marketing and advertising that would make the Mary Kay reps dab a tear in their eye with respect for the zeal with which they pursue their job. There are trade shows where reps will come and extoll the virtues of this medication and that, all while under the guise of helping to heal - but for a fee. "There is a body of research evidence showing that marketing promotion of drugs to physicians is effective in affecting prescribing practice." says Barbara Mintzes, a professor previously with the faculty of pharmacy at the University of British Columbia who now lectures at the University of Sydney in Australia. This means that health care workers are routinely being aggressively marketed to, and can cost patients more. Doctors become reluctant to prescribe cheaper drugs, before trying the more expensive brands at the cost to the taxpayer under a universal healthcare act, and threatens to bankrupt someone without any health coverage. So if doctors are being educated about these drugs by the rep, who has an interest in making sales, not making patients well, then that is a pretty big conflict of interests.
Anyone who has picked up a news source in the last few years will have seen the growing number of articles that speaks of the greed of these companies. In British Columbia, my home province in Canada, I'm able to cite at least one example of the madness... Nikki Davies received a blood transfusion from a car accident when she was a teen, and was infected with tainted blood. Through her experience with the hospital, she contracted Hepatitis C. The virus is most widely known to be contracted by sharing contaminated needles for intravenous drug use, and comes with a stigma, on top of physical symptoms. It wasn't until she was 30 and diagnosed that she was able to know what was ailing her. "I couldn't imagine having this kind of infection, because I wasn't doing anything that would contribute to that," Davies said. "So, I was really confused." She received a settlement of $172,000 as part of a national class-action lawsuit, however living with her health conditions, that money has long since been gone. With her physical symptoms still very much an issue for Davies, she applied to B.C.'s Pharmacare program to cover the cost of a drug that cures Hep C, and was the treatment actress Pamela Anderson used to recover from her infection. The drug, Gilead, costs $67,000 for a 12-week treatment plan. However, the province states that full cost for the health care system of providing, administering and monitoring the new drug is actually closer to $140,000 for each patient. Her application for treatment has been denied, and she continues to struggle with her illness.
But this is only one story of the Pharm Team putting profit over accessibility.
In fact, it's more often than not that drug companies aren't just making modest increases to their profits. They are wholesale holding the health of humans ransom. As Congress gleefully begins dismantling the USA's healthcare system like they are taking down last year's Christmas decorations, pharmaceutical CEOs are quietly giving themselves major salary hikes. This is a fairly common practice with most larger businesses but there are two elements that separate the Pharm Team from your garden variety one-percenters CEO. The first being that they are VASTLY huge pay hikes, which trickle down to the cost of the drugs putting the cost on the patients. The second being that, well, this will kill a lot of people. This isn't a flight of fancy, or some hyperbole. People will start dying because they cannot afford their medication. This doesn't help as when people get desperate, they start resorting to more ways to make sure they can ensure their continued survival. If my pop-culture radar hasn't failed me, I'm pretty sure that is how Breaking Bad started...
If Walter White was someone who had a lethal allergic reaction to something that required an epi-pen, then his days would have been numbered before turning to the drug trade. Heather Bresch, Mylan's chief executive, and the company that produces the EpiPen, has staunchly defended her reasoning as to why this medication, which costs $1 per dose to $608 for a two-pack of the pens. I never went to college, but that works out to a 500% increase in a decade. I know inflation in economics is a thing, but in this instance the price is so inflated, Richard Branson is going to attempt to get it airborne and travel around the world in it. It would seem that this is something that both Republicans and Democrats can BOTH agree on - this shit has got to stop. After 'Pharma-bro', Martin Shkreli, was the face of pure evil greed for jacking the price of Darparim from $13.50 to $750 a pill, the camel's back is starting the feel the weight piled up and the final straw is now a Sword Of Damocles, hovering over the hump.
I can only conclude to this two things from all of this. The first being that the best advice I can give is don't get sick if you are below a certain tax bracket (I'm thinking George Clooney's tax bracket) if you want to live beyond a certain age. The latter being that the real reason for all of this INTENSE greed among the drug companies can only mean one thing: they are saving their money to be able to afford their own medication if they get sick. But truly, the only thing that is really sick here is that the system, the medical professionals and the government has let it get to this point.