I have posted a number of previous posts about some of the misadventures foisted on healthcare consumers by Big Pharma companies (see, for example: Limitations Placed on Big Pharma Facebook Pages; On the Corrosive Influence of Big Pharma on Academic Physicians; Which Physicians Are Fronting for the Medical Ghost-Writers?; Effectiveness of "Direct-to-Consumer" Drug Advertisements; Rigged Depression Survey on the Web Steers Readers to Lilly's Cymbalta). I post below Mr. HIStalk's perspective about the recent GlaxoSmithKline escapade (see: News 7/4/12):
Comment From Reppin’: “Re: GSK [GlaxoSmithKline]. You should run the GSK Las Vegas sales kickoff video if you can find it. That’s what’s wrong with healthcare. The big boys scream to government, ‘Get off our backs, we can regulate ourselves.’
Mr. HIStalk's response: They can’t, and a $3 billion fine is nothing to them. Executives should have been fired. They aren’t alone: Abbott, Pfizer, etc.” Drug maker GlaxoSmithKline will pay $3 billion for promoting two of its popular drugs for unapproved uses and for hiding safety information about a third drug. Its marketing tactics included sending doctors on pheasant hunting trips to Europe and paying them for speaking. GSK pushed doctors to prescribe Paxil for depression in children even though the drug was not approved by the FDA for patients under 18. GSK says it has learned its lesson, which would be remarkable given the very long list of similar problems the company has bought its way out of over years (overbilling Medicaid, charging third-world countries high prices for AIDS drugs, adulterating drugs, dodging US taxes, and hiding drug side effects.) Company profits dropped in the most recent quarter to a “disappointing” $2.1 billion, so the “huge” fine amounts to around 18 weeks’ of profit. Maybe that’s the lesson they’ve learned – settlement payouts for arguably criminal wrongdoing are just a marketing cost. If it were me, I’d go after the docs who were willing to place their patients in danger for perks – publishing their names publicly should have been a condition of the settlement. We know drug companies often lean toward scumbaggery given ample opportunity, but they didn’t take the Hippocratic Oath and represent themselves as the patient’s advocate while pimping out their prescription pads.
I am having a tough time deciding whether recent global corporate scandals (e.g., Goldman Sachs, GlaxoSmithKline, Barclays, Rupert Murdoch and News International) are the result of (1) these organizations being even more greedy than in previous eras, or (2) whether their misdeeds are being broadcast more widely by new media and even mainstream media. I could have come up with a larger list but you get the idea.
It's interesting that Mr. HIStalk tars the physicians who have been on the payrolls of Big Pharma in his piece. Frankly, I have always been surprised at how little it took to satisfy many of these physicians who allowed their names to be attached to ghost-written articles or agreed to flog off-label use of drugs for relatively small checks. I do agree with Mr. HIStalk about how puny these corporate fines seem. They are probably described internally by the companies as the "cost of doing business" with little concern about how consumers react to the scandals. I am wondering if fines should not be a predetermined amount but rather all of the company's previous year's profits or a fixed fine, whichever is larger. Clearly the fines that are currently being levied are insufficient to get the executives to think twice about stepping over the line.