Fair warning: this is a rant against the pharmaceutical industry.

I look on the big drug makers as the equivalent of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth: They tell you what you want to hear, it is all technically true, and it does not profit you.

If you look at some member companies of PhRMA, you will find the following:

Pfizer is in a lawsuit that alleges it conspired with Ranbaxy. The claim seems to be that Ranbaxy agreed not to sell generic Lipitor in the US after it came off patent. The suit claims that $18Billion was made in the US as a result.

GlaxoSmithKline set aside amounts of $2.36 billion and $3.4 billion to fight legal battles. These due to side effects of Paxil, an antidepressant, and Avandia, a diabetes drug that has been linked to higher risk of heart attack – as high as 43% higher.

Bristol-Myers Squibb is accused of bribing doctors and pharmacists by offering cash kickbacks, gifts and “happy hours” with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Eli Lilly and Company agreed to plead guilty and pay $1.415 billion for promoting its drug Zyprexa for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

It did not take long to find these instances. There are many more. In addition,

The top twenty pharmaceutical companies and their two trade groups, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and Biotechnology Industry Organization, lobbied on at least 1,600 pieces of legislation between 1998 and 2004. This from Wikipedia.

I present this dismal background without a specific beef against any of the above-mentioned companies; I think the lobbying tells a tale of profiteering and potentially of legislative maneuvering. One could probably search other pharmaceutical firms along with the word “lawsuit” and find similar occurrences. Nevertheless, these firms are very profitable, and most profitable in the USA where they appear to be able to charge exactly what the market will bear. (See the Wikipedia article referenced above for this quote.)

In this context I would like to muse on the history of the contraceptive pill.

Although the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive in 1960, contraceptives were not available to married women in all states until Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 and were not available to unmarried women in all states until Eisenstadt v. Baird in 1972. This from the same Wikipedia article.

I wonder how many of us remember the advertising that went with this new pharmaceutical miracle. I recall a voice-over telling a young woman to take control over your body. What this really meant was:

  • don’t worry about getting pregnant. take this pill. buy it from us.
  • don’t use not-getting-pregnant as an excuse to refuse sex. This stuff is available. To your competition.
  • control your body, our way; but lose your right to make this one decision.

I trust the comparison to Macbeth’s witches is obvious.

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