US and World Politics

Profiting Off the Sick, Injured and the Healthy

By Bonnie Weinstein

According to a December 11, 2013 article in the New York Times by Gretchen Reynolds titled, “Exercise as Potent Medicine,”1

“Exercise can be as effective as many frequently prescribed drugs in treating some of the leading causes of death, according to a new report. The study raises important questions about whether our healthcare system focuses too much on medications and too little on activity to combat physical ailments.”

One of the challenges of the study, the article points out, was that while “They ended up with data covering 305 past experiments that, collectively, involved almost 340,000 participants, which is an impressive total. …Most of the volunteers had received drugs. Only 57 of the experiments, involving 14,716 volunteers, had examined the impact of exercise as a treatment.”

The pharmaceutical industry does not pay for experiments measuring the effectiveness of exercise and diet on health.

In fact, according to Dr. Ioannidis, one of the doctors who worked on the report, “‘Only five percent’ of the available and relevant experiments in his [Dr. Ioannidis’s] new analysis involved exercise. ‘We need far more information’ about how exercise compares, head to head, with drugs in the treatment of many conditions, he said, as well as what types and amounts of exercise confer the most benefit and whether there are side effects, such as injuries. Ideally, he said, pharmaceutical companies would set aside a tiny fraction of their profits for such studies. But he is not optimistic that such funding will materialize, without widespread public pressure.”

Basically, exercise is not profitable and could, in fact, cut into the profits of the pharmaceutical industry. But it gets worse.

Connecting the dots

According to a December 14, 2013 article in the Times by Alan Schwarz titled, “The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder,”2 with the sub-head: “The Number of Diagnoses Soared Amid a 20-Year Drug Marketing Campaign,”

“After more than 50 years leading the fight to legitimize attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Keith Conners could be celebrating.

“Severely hyperactive and impulsive children, once shunned as bad seeds, are now recognized as having a real neurological problem. Doctors and parents have largely accepted drugs like Adderall and Concerta to temper the traits of classic A.D.H.D., helping youngsters succeed in school and beyond.

“But Dr. Conners did not feel triumphant this fall as he addressed a group of fellow A.D.H.D. specialists in Washington.

“He noted that recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the diagnosis had been made in 15 percent of high school-age children, and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990. He questioned the rising rates of diagnosis and called them ‘a national disaster of dangerous proportions.’

“The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous,’ Dr. Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University, said in a subsequent interview. ‘This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.’”

The article goes on to point out,

“The rise of A.D.H.D. diagnoses and prescriptions for stimulants over the years coincided with a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents. With the children’s market booming, the industry is now employing similar marketing techniques as it focuses on adult A.D.H.D., which could become even more profitable.”

These drugs have become so pervasive that the TV cartoon-show, The Simpsons, featured a segment in one of the shows where ten-year-old Bart Simpson, who is prescribed Ritalin for his failings in school, sings this little ditty to the tune of “Popeye the Sailor Man,”

“When I can’t stop my fiddlin’

I just takes me Ritalin

I’m poppin’ and sailin’, man!”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Bart except that he hates school and homework.

The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t examine the deteriorating quality of our public education system; the over crowded classes filled with children at or below the poverty line. They don’t study the effects on health of the school to jail pipeline; the deteriorating neighborhoods; joblessness; poor diet and sedentary lifestyles not to mention the lack of safe and healthy outdoor spaces and activities for children and adults. Instead they devise a pill that makes people more manageable in an unmanageable, unhealthy and unsafe environment. This is not healthcare; it’s chemical control.

In a November 24, 2011 Times article titled, “Payments to Doctors by Pharmaceutical Companies Raise Issues of Conflicts,”3 by Emily Ramshaw and Ryan Murphy,

“Nationwide, pharmaceutical manufacturers routinely pay medical professionals to assess a new product or to help contribute to the drug company’s sales. The companies fly medical professionals to seminars and conferences and may also pay speaking fees. State-employed doctors and researchers are generally no exception, though they are supposed to comply with their individual institutions’ conflict-of-interest policies.”

This article goes on to point out,

“State [Texas] records show that of the 74 doctors and psychiatrists statewide who have routinely prescribed the highest number of costly antipsychotic drugs to patients on Medicaid, the joint state-federal health insurance program for the disabled, children and the very poor, ten received payments from drug companies in 2009-11—from $11,000 to $180,000 each.

“All but one got the payments from the maker of the drug they most commonly prescribed.”

It is unconscionable for anyone in the medical profession to take money from a pharmaceutical company to push their drugs onto patients. How can their motives be trusted?

In a November 13 2013 article in the Times by John D. Abramson and Rita F. Redberg titled, “Don’t Give More Patients Statins,”

“On Tuesday, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology issued new cholesterol guidelines that essentially declared, in one fell swoop, that millions of healthy Americans should immediately start taking pills—namely statins—for undefined health ‘benefits.’

“This announcement is not a result of a sudden epidemic of heart disease, nor is it based on new data showing the benefits of lower cholesterol. Instead, it is a consequence of simply expanding the definition of who should take the drugs—a decision that will benefit the pharmaceutical industry more than anyone else.”

It goes on,

“This may sound like good news for patients, and it would be—if statins actually offered meaningful protection from our No. 1 killer, heart disease; if they helped people live longer or better; and if they had minimal adverse side effects. However, none of these are the case.

Statins are effective for people with known heart disease. But for people who have less than a 20 percent risk of getting heart disease in the next ten years, statins not only fail to reduce the risk of death, but also fail even to reduce the risk of serious illness…based on the same data the new guidelines rely on, 140 people in this risk group would need to be treated with statins in order to prevent a single heart attack or stroke, without any overall reduction in death or serious illness.

“At the same time, 18 percent or more of this group would experience side effects, including muscle pain or weakness, decreased cognitive function, increased risk of diabetes (especially for women), cataracts or sexual dysfunction.

“Perhaps more dangerous, statins provide false reassurances that may discourage patients from taking the steps that actually reduce cardiovascular disease. According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of cardiovascular disease is caused by smoking, lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, and other lifestyle factors. Statins give the illusion of protection to many people, who would be much better served, for example, by simply walking an extra ten minutes per day.”

The picture is clear

The U.S. doesn’t have healthcare, it has a billion-dollar, profit-driven, health-industry orchestrated by the pharmaceutical titans and their health insurance partners. Their goal is not to heal the sick but to make as much profit as possible off them. They will pursue their profits even when it means pushing unnecessary and harmful drugs on healthy children and adults. Ordinary checks and balances are overlooked when the primary goal is to increase the rate of profits by selling us more drugs. U.S. drug companies are the biggest drug-pushers in the world but don’t even spend a second behind penitentiary bars.

“Obamacare” has been nothing but a billion-dollar boondoggle for the healthcare and health insurance industries. In some places in the country under the so-called “Affordable Health Care Act,” the cost for healthcare can be as much as 20 percent of a person’s income. In northwestern Wisconsin for instance, a person earning $50,000.00-per-year has to spend more than 19 percent of his/her income, or $9,801.00 annually, just to buy one of the cheapest healthcare plans.4 And buy one you will or get fined!

Healthcare is our right, and it should be free to all

We can’t have faith in a healthcare industry that’s out for profits at the expense of people. The doctors and hospitals that go along with the insurance and pharmaceutical companies can’t be trusted to have our health and wellbeing in mind.

The only way we can make sure our healthcare is healthy again, is to nationalize the whole industry and turn it into a not-for-profit, free healthcare system. The insurance industry should be abolished; the pharmaceutical companies cannot remain in private hands either. They must be nationalized and their profits confiscated to provide top-quality healthcare for all—including maintaining a healthy environment and living conditions. Food, housing, clothing, education, healthcare and a beautiful, clean and safe environment are rights that belong to everyone. A person can’t be healthy without them.




4 “New Health Law Frustrates Many in Middle Class,” by Kate Thomas, Reed Ableson and Jo Craven McGinty, December 20, 2013