For being the industry that provides us with both life-saving drugs and boner pills, Big Pharma sure gets a lot of hate. But it turns out they're even better at sucking than we thought, filling their day-to-day lives with lots of little acts of douchebaggery to keep us miserable through all of our waking moments. For example ...
Years of toxic masculinity and lazy sitcom jokes have thoroughly convinced men that if their penises don't work, it's the end of the world. Fortunately for the 30 million men with erectile dysfunction in the U.S., pharma giant Pfizer can cure what ails you. Just stock up on Viagra, and your little guy will keep going and going and going, right up to the moment you die of heart disease.
Viagra, the blue pill that lets you drill, might be one of the grandest and most successful acts of bullshit marketing in history. Until about 25 years ago, pharmacy companies were saying that impotence only affected 10-20 million men, and most of them were too old to worry or care about it. But in 1994, researchers Edward Laumann and John Gagnon (who were conveniently on Pfizer's payroll) put out a study claiming that 30-50 percent of adults were sexually dissatisfied, which seems a lot harder to scientifically quantify than real medical conditions. For all we know, that study only proves that 30-50 percent of men couldn't resist making a crack about their wives when asked by two dudes how their sex lives were.
Laumann and Gagnon later expanded on this study to claim that 43 percent of women and 31 percent of men were not just sexually dissatisfied, but in fact dysfunctional. Pfizer ran with this, using the studies to claim that 30 million American men suffered from a term that everyone is now familiar with: "erectile dysfunction." That dubious study, combined with urologist Irwin Goldstein (who was also on Pfizer's payroll) saying that impotence was a major health concern, mean it's no surprise that Pfizer made a billion dollars off of Viagra in a few months, giving them yet another bulge in their pants to be proud about.
But the real crime here is that all this focus on regaining strong, lasting erections has obscured the real issue: If you're having problems with your penis, the problem is rarely about your penis. It probably can be traced to your heart or brain, which we've been told are more important organs. Men usually suffer from impotence because of issues related to strokes or heart disease -- both of which can be triggered if you're having marathon sex hopped up on boner pills. In 1998, Pfizer was forced to add warning labels to the famous pill, which solved the problem forever, because everyone reads those. But before they did that, over 130 men died because Pfizer had convinced them to not seek true medical help, and they did so while getting busy. We're surprised the company didn't simply commission another study claiming that 30-50 percent of those men's dying words were "Totally worth it."
Marijuana, to put it in medical terms, is the shit. It's basically magic if you're going through chemotherapy, being the only known drug which both reduces nausea and increases appetite. It also reduces pain, helps you sleep, and improves your mood. It also helps you see colors -- like, really see colors. Also, just ... outer space, man.
Not everyone is happy about the medical properties of marijuana, though. Pharmaceutical companies are used to selling painkillers and other drugs for large amounts of money, and they don't want to share their profits with a bunch of stoners. They're right to be worried, too. States that have legalized medical marijuana see a notable drop in pharmaceutical drug sales, especially painkillers. In those same states, opioid overdoses have dropped by 25 percent. But if you think fewer people dying of drug overdoses is a good thing, you're never going to get anywhere in the pharmaceutical game.
In 2016, when eight different states approved measures to legalize marijuana in one form or another, Arizona was one state that resisted.
"Arizona: Still slightly cooler than Utah!"
That might have something to do with Insys Therapeutics, a company which manufactures a painkiller specifically for cancer patients, which poured $500,000 in campaign funds into an organization opposing the measure to legalize pot. Of course, when they were asked about it, they claimed that ... oh, they admitted outright that it was because they would make less money. They seemed baffled by the idea that they couldn't own the painkiller market, since they were owning Congress perfectly fine.
However, realizing they're probably next on the list of things Millennials are killing, these companies are taking a page out of Pfizer's (and Big Tobacco's) books and paying experts to tell everyone that marijuana is dangerous. Dr. Herbert Kleber of Columbia University has made plenty of appearances on NPR, CNBC, and CBS News, talking out of his ass about how addictive marijuana is and how it will lead to a public health crisis. What they never seem to mention, though, is that he's been paid by numerous drug companies, including the makers of OxyContin. And if the makers of New Heroin are paying you to say weed is dangerous, you might as well roll that PhD into a big fat blunt and smoke it.
OxyContin is probably the most widely prescribed drug that will absolutely fuck you up sideways. It will get rid of your pain, along with all your other senses and any connection to the real world. It can also cause nausea, heart failure, death, and worst of all, the hiccups. And as you probably already know by now, it's as addictive as heroin, with similar withdrawal symptoms, like fever, nausea, panic attacks, and writing terrible poetry. How in the hell did a drug this dangerous manage to get into the hands of so many people? Via doctors, of course.
OxyContin was made available to the public in 1996, making $45 million in sales in its first year. By 2000, only four years later, it was making an astonishing $1.1 billion for its manufacturer, Purdue Pharma. Coincidentally, in that timespan, there was a massive increase in the number of doctors prescribing OxyContin for everything from back pain to arthritis to stubbed toes to "thought they saw a spider." That's because Purdue had an ingenious plan to recruit not just any doctors, but the right kind of doctors. Instead of chasing every Tom, Dick, and Jan wearing a stethoscope, the company started keeping records of thousands of quacks who were already pushing much more painkillers than the average doc. Once they'd found their pill monkeys, it was a simple matter of getting them to switch brands.
Whether those doctors were sleazy or living somewhere with a high density of people with bad backs didn't matter to Purdue. For the ones who cared enough to inquire after the addictive properties of the drug, Purdue's sales reps came up with a pretty inventive solution: They lied. They claimed that the potential for OxyContin addiction was "less than 1 percent," and even made this a major part of their marketing to physicians. As we now know, the addictive potential of the drug is in truth closer to a hundred million percent, but we'd hate to be splitting hairs.
In 2007, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to lying about how safe OxyContin was, paying a $600 million fine for creating a "corporate culture that allowed this product to be misbranded with the intent to defraud and mislead." This taught the company a valuable lesson for about ten seconds, which is roughly the time it now takes for them to earn that much profit. And if it breaks your heart to know that a company can get away with creating a nationwide health crisis for less than they probably spend on Christmas bonuses, Purdue has precisely the pill for that.
We do at least have one recourse from the highly expensive drugs that line the mysterious back shelves of the pharmacy: sweet, sweet generic brands. If you can't afford the big name, you can get something that works almost exactly the same for a fraction of the price, allowing you to stave off liver disease and still afford luxuries like bread. Finally, the free market delivers a solution that works! Also, your generic drugs are probably counterfeit.
Right now, 40 percent of all generic drugs sold in the United States are made in India, which has its own version of Big Pharma. And the World Health Organization estimates that 20 percent of their drugs are fake. So does that mean that the drugs don't work, or that they are cheap knockoffs of commercial drugs? Yes.
Indian law states that while the process of making a drug is patented, the drug itself is not. This means that anyone who reverse-engineers a Viagra, or something less important like cancer drugs, can manufacture it on their own and sell it. Without any decent checks and balances, this means anyone with a chemistry kit can claim they've cracked OxyContin and ship it off to the rest of the world. After some of these drugs were finally tested, a number of them (ranging from 12-20 percent) were found to have no active ingredients whatsoever, making them as effective as Styrofoam. They weren't all floppy boner pills, either. These scams includes fake cancer drugs and antibiotics for sick infants, which is a move so comically evil you'd expect to see it in an episode of Jonny Quest.
"Actually, that 'v' is a typo. Our bad."
This lack of oversight is what makes selling fake drugs such a huge industry. Ten percent of the world's drug trade is made up of counterfeits, and this economy's growing at an estimated 25 percent per year. The FDA here in the USA is finally starting to crack down on this, springing surprise inspections on Indian plants and fining manufacturer Ranbaxy a whopping $500 million for their lies. Their response was to ask the FDA commissioner to keep letting them sell their fake drugs to the American public. After all, how else were they going to afford that fine?
There's an even worse side of this, however. The explosion of drugs has led to a large increase in pollution from pharmaceutical factories. As if regular pollution isn't bad enough, pharmapollution can lead to increased antibiotic resistance among bacteria, leading to superbugs that can't be treated easily. So not only are these fake drugs ineffective, but they're also making real drugs less effective. Why raise the bar when you can just lower the other ones, right?
Biopiracy, contrary to what the name conjures, isn't the act of performing naval raids on Whole Foods shipments. It's stealing people's genetic information without their permission. And when we say people, we mean a people, like the time in the early '90s when the Coriell Medical Institute stole blood from a native Ecuadorian tribe.
In 1990 and 1991, Coriell partnered with the Maxus Energy Corporation and Harvard University to draw thousands of blood samples from 600 members of the Huaorani tribe in Ecuador, which comes out to "several pints of blood" per person. Under 20 percent of the participants agreed to the procedure, so enjoy lying awake thinking of how a shadowy cabal of rich institutions would obtain the blood of 480 people without their permission. They also helped themselves to some tissue samples, because hey, they were already down in the creepy blood dungeon, so why not?
"They stole my genetic makeup and I didn't even get a stupid T-shirt."
Regardless of how they got the blood, all of the "participants" were told that their samples would be analyzed for personal medical examinations, and then Coriell did not do that. The samples were instead sold to research labs around the world, including Harvard (which hopefully got a henchman discount). Over the next 22 years, 31 research papers were written about the discoveries made from the Huaorani blood and tissue samples, and not a penny of the deserved royalties ever made it back to the tribe.
Why did Coriell go to so much trouble? Apparently, there are many scientists around the world who think the Huaorani tribe have very particular genetic mutations which make them immune to diseases like hepatitis. Being able to replicate this immunity would be revolutionary, but scientists still have yet to prove the link, even 25 years after the Great People Harvesting. As for what happened to the Huaorani, we're not really sure, because almost every fact on their Wikipedia page has "" next to it. That might be a scarier sentence than the one with "blood dungeon" in it.
When you're creating something that's intended to cure people, it's best to make extra-sure that it doesn't kill them instead. That's why pharmaceutical drugs go through many rigorous rounds of testing, with control groups and consent forms and all that, to ensure that we're curing AIDS and not turning it into Super AIDS. Or you could be like Synthes, and not give a fuck and straight-up inject cement into people's spines.
Synthes is a medical company that injected cement into people's spines, because we really can't say that enough. The product in question was Norian XR, a special kind of cement which apparently could turn into bone if it was injected into a human skeleton. Normally, a product that dangerous and invasive would have to go through expensive medical trials, finding patients desperate enough to try out an experimental new procedure that could potentially kill them. But Synthes decided that due diligence is for suckers, and went ahead with their own illegal trials. After all, how could shoving experimental putty directly into someone's spine ever go wrong?
This is how Marvel villains are made.
Between 2002 and 2004, Synthes injected cement into an unknown number of patients without their permission, mainly by tricking hospitals into using Norian XR and lying about how safe and legal the concoction was. Some scientists quickly raised warnings about how the drug could potentially cause fatal blood clots, and the FDA requested that Synthes holy shit not do this, but the pharma company gave them both the middle finger and proceeded anyway. The results weren't good: Five people ended up dying on the operating table as a result of the Norian XR injection, which even Synthes had to admit that was a mixed bag.
In 2009, the Department of Justice formally accused Synthes of injecting cement into people's spines Four executives ended up pleading guilty to obscure misdemeanor charges, and amazingly, all of them actually went to jail. Of course, what was waiting for them on the other side wasn't humility, but fat stacks of cash, as Synthes was later sold to Johnson & Johnson for over $20 billion. Here's hoping those executives spent every day in prison getting punched right in their spines.
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