If you go by their portrayal in movies and TV shows, you'd think that huge pharmaceutical corporations make all their money by turning children into zombies and having them steal grandma's heart medication, or whatever the plot of Resident Evil was. But the truth is that Big Pharma (as hippies and crackpots call it) isn't a modern-day Legion of Doom. They're businesses focused on making money, just like every other company out there ... which isn't to say they aren't capable of evil. They totally are. It's just that their evil usually involves less illegal genetic experiments and more down-to-earth dick moves like ...
5 Repackaging Medication to Trick You into Taking It
The name of a drug is a crucial part of its marketing. The antidepressant Prozac, for example, is meant to sound sciency, while the drug Sarafem, which is targeted at women, sounds distinctly feminine. (It's also pink, because ... vaginas, we suppose?) However, the only differences between these supposedly very different drugs are their names and colors: Sarafem is actually just Prozac, because Eli Lilly, the drug company behind both medications, wanted women to take the drug without telling them what it was.
Warner Chilcott/Eli Lilly
"But it says 'fluoxetine' right on the label. How can you not immediately know what that is?!"
Sarafem was marketed as the cure for an ailment called premenstrual dysphoric disorder -- essentially, all the unpleasantness that goes along with menstruation, plus horrible panic attacks, anxiety, and souped-up mood swings. And we're not saying that Prozac doesn't treat those symptoms; it might (we're not doctors). We just think that tricking people into taking drugs they wouldn't otherwise take is a moral gray area, although it could be forgiven if it was done for noble intentions. Like, say, if women suffering from PMDD really needed to take Prozac but were avoiding it due to its negative association with depression. That, however, is not what happened here.
Prozac was a huge money maker for Eli Lilly, and Sarafem was released only a few months before their patent on Prozac was set to expire. When a drug patent expires, its price drops sharply, as competitors start releasing their own generic versions. But by releasing a new drug identical to Prozac, Eli Lilly managed to extend their patent by a few years, allowing the price of Prozac to remain nice and high.
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Depressing, huh? Don't worry -- Eli Lilly has the cure!
In 1997, GlaxoSmithKline did something similar when they released the well-known antidepressant Wellbutrin as a pill that helps you quit smoking, but only after rebranding it as Zyban. Again, the science behind the drug might have actually been sound, but it doesn't change the fact that deceiving people into taking mind-altering drugs is something you usually expect to end with James Bond blowing up a skull-shaped island fortress in the middle of the Pacific.