By Dr. Mercola
Over the course of the past two decades, U.S. spending on prescription drugs increased from $40 billion to more than $230 billion.
Illegal drug company activities are one factor contributing to this inflated spending.
One 2010 study looked at trends in federal and state criminal and civil actions against drug companies in order to assess the impact of such shady activities.
Among other findings, the study showed that while the defense industry used to be the biggest defrauder of the federal government under the False Claims Act, the drug industry has now overtaken them.
Big Pharma: Biggest Defrauder of Federal Government
In fact, the drug industry now tops all other industries in the total amount of fraud payments for actions against the federal government under the False Claims Act.
Four companies stand out as the worst of the worst.
GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and Schering-Plough accounted for 53 percent of all financial penalties imposed on pharmaceutical companies between 1990 and 2010.
Most recently, on November 3, the New York Times reported that GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has settled another round of litigation against them to the tune of $3 BILLION. (The previous record was held by Pfizer, which in 2009 paid a fine of $2.3 billion for illegal marketing.) The charges against GSK included illegal marketing of the dangerous diabetes drug Avandia, kick-backs to doctors, and manipulation of medical research. Three billion dollars is no chump change, but it's still just a drop in the bucket when you consider the astronomical profits these companies rake in, which are significantly bolstered by their criminal activities.
For example, GSK has an annual revenue of about $28 billion, so how much of a deterrent can $3 billion really be?
The record over the past 20 years tells us that financial fines have done nothing to curb the criminal mindset within the pharmaceutical industry. On the contrary, it has increased in the past several years, despite larger fines being levied. This is largely due to the perversion of corporate influence on the government, as most eloquently explained by one of the most famous political lobbyists of all time who was able to freely spill the beans about the process in the 60 Minutes sequence below, after having served time in federal prison.
Please understand that the drug industry has the LARGEST political lobbying force in the United States.
"Over the past two decades, especially during the past 10 years, there has been a marked increase in both the number of government settlements with pharmaceutical companies and the size of the accompanying financial penalties. The reasons for these increases are likely related to a combination of increased violations by companies and increased enforcement on the part of federal and state governments.
The danger to public safety and the loss of state and federal dollars that comes with these violations require a more robust response than the government's current practices. Given the relatively small size of current financial penalties when compared to the perpetrating companies' profits, both increased financial penalties and appropriate criminal prosecution of company leadership may provide a more effective deterrent to unlawful behavior by the pharmaceutical industry."
Pharmaceutical Corporations Top the Corporate Criminals List
In August of last year, the Bureau of Investigative Journalists also shed some much needed light on the vast corruption within the pharmaceutical industry. A large number of pharmaceutical companies are guilty of fraud, cover-ups of fatal side effects, and huge kickbacks paid to doctors.
A total of 19 drug companies also made AllBusiness.com's Top 100 Corporate Criminals List for the 1990s. Charges run the gamut from international price-setting, illegal marketing, false claims, hiding serious problems with their drugs and, in one case (Ortho, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson), obstruction of justice and eight counts of persuading employees to destroy documents in a federal investigation.
Between those three sources alone, there's no longer a shred of doubt that the pharmaceutical industry is officially the most crime-infested and crooked industry on the planet—at least in terms of criminal activities that are actually being caught, pursued and prosecuted. (For a running list of the most recent news on False Claims Act cases, see the Taxpayers Against Fraud site.)
Yet toxic drugs designed, manufactured, and peddled by these top criminals are what the medical industry and government health agencies try to pass off as the "best" route to good health… despite the fact that pharmaceutical drugs, taken as prescribed, are also directly responsible for the death of at least 106,000 people annually, on top of everything else.
It would be funny if it wasn't so profoundly tragic.
Main Findings by the Public Citizen's Health Research Group
By scouring through comprehensive databases of all major criminal and civil settlements between federal and state governments and pharmaceutical companies occurring between 1990 and 2010, the Public Citizen's Health Research Group made some sobering discoveries.
"Of the 165 settlements comprising $19.8 billion in penalties during this 20-year interval, 73 percent of the settlements (121) and 75 percent of the penalties ($14.8 billion) have occurred in just the past five years (2006-2010).
… The practice of illegal off-label promotion of pharmaceuticals has been responsible for the largest amount of financial penalties levied by the federal government over the past 20 years. This practice can be prosecuted as a criminal offense because of the potential for serious adverse health effects in patients from such activities.
Deliberately overcharging state health programs, mainly Medicaid fraud, has been the most common violation against state governments and is responsible for the largest amount of financial penalties levied by these governments. This type of violation is also the main factor in the considerable increase in state settlements with pharmaceutical companies over time."
The Six Top Thugs of the Medical World
Last year, I also did some of my own research into the biggest wrong-doers. The chart below shows the type of criminal activity, lawsuits and fines or judgments I was able to find for each of the six drug companies featured in that report.
Keep in mind that these are conservative numbers as many records are not available without a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Also, many are not readily available online unless you know exactly what you're looking for, and what year.
|Type of criminal activity||Pfizer||GSK||Baxter||Merck & Co.||Roche||Johnson & Johnson|
|Guilty of fraud and/or Illegal sales activity||9||11||8||7||4||14|
|Federal and/or Civil lawsuits||10,000+ Individuals or together in class action suits||800+||226+ Unnamed number of persons w/AIDS||100,000 Individuals or together in class action suits||5,000+ Individual and/or class action||500+ Individual and/or class action|
|Dollar Amount of fines, judgments as a result of criminal or civil litigation||$4 Billion+||$5 Billion+||$1.3 Billion+||$5.5 Billion+||$1.7 Billion+||$1 Billion+|
United States: 49th in Life Expectancy, First in Health Care Costs
Sadly, all of the statistics included in this article indicate that the pharmaceutical industry shows no signs at all of changing its ways. If anything, their behavior is getting more reprehensible as time goes on, as the price to be paid is never 'costly' enough to deter further malfeasance.
Ditto for the American healthcare system as a whole, which of course is based on the drug paradigm with a pill for every ill... Is it any wonder then that our health statistics are so abysmal? Virtually every measurable index indicates that despite the ever-increasing amounts of money invested, if you live in the U.S., your chances of achieving optimal health through the medical system is only getting worse. While the U.S. spends more than twice the amount on health care as other developed nations, we rank 49th in life expectancy worldwide—lower than a dozen other developed nations!
That alone should tell you that the system is not working. But there's plenty more evidence showing that our health care system is in dire need of a complete overhaul, away from the drug paradigm and toward nutrition and preventive health measures.
In a June 2010 report in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, study authors said that in looking over records that spanned from 1976 to 2006 (the most recent year available) they found that, of 62 million death certificates, almost a quarter-million deaths were coded as having occurred in a hospital setting due to medication errors.
Many more are harmed by other types of medical mistakes. For example, an analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine published in November of last year concluded that, despite efforts to improve patient safety in the past few years, the health care system hasn't changed much at all. Instead, 18 percent of patients were harmed by medical care (some repeatedly) and over 63 percent of the injuries could have been prevented. In nearly 2.5 percent of these cases, the problems caused or contributed to a person's death. In another 3 percent, patients suffered from permanent injury. In all there were over 25 injuries per 100 admissions.
Surely, there must be a better way?
I believe there is, and it all starts with taking control of your diet, exercise, and overall lifestyle.
Optimal Health Can be Reached without Drugs
Most of you know that I rarely recommend pharmaceuticals, and in fact my mission is to catalyze a transformation of the fatally flawed health care system that uses expensive pharmaceuticals, and surgeries –as the primary strategy. We need to shift the direction and focus on treating and preventing the foundational underlying causes. In many cases, your health will actually improve when you stop taking drugs and are no longer subjected to their side effects.
Naturally, you should not stop any medications you are currently taking until you are working with a knowledgeable natural health care practitioner who can help guide you, but minimizing your use of drugs should be a goal if you want to achieve optimal health. Keep in mind, too, that many drugs are designed to create life-long dependency.
For instance, acid-reducing medications actually induce acid-related symptoms like heartburn and acid regurgitation once treatment is withdrawn. Headache drugs can also cause "medication overuse headaches" leading you to seek another drug to relieve the pain caused by the first one. It's all too common to have to take one or more additional drugs solely to treat side effects caused by your initial drug treatment, so the more you can stay away from this warped system, the better.
The desire to solve problems by taking drugs is a product of our culture, perpetuated by everyone, from drug manufacturers, to doctors, to government health officials, to you.
When you teach your child that the appropriate response to pain or discomfort is to take a pill, the result may be that he seeks comfort by taking drugs when faced with the challenges of adolescence and, later, as an adult. But you CAN take control of your health, and you can typically do so without using medications.
My site is chock full of free comprehensive recommendations that can serve as an excellent starting point. The tools I provide on this site will help you to reduce your reliance on the broken health care system, including its overuse of drugs and provide you with the tools and resources to Take Control of Your Health.