Billion-dollar pay-offs, bosses wielding life-and-death power, FBI stings and take-downs: Scarface? No, pharmaceuticals!
Any good detective will tell you that you can sometimes find crime in the darndest places. In the pharmaceutical racket, the drugs are legal and they’re prescribed by your doctor, but that might be where the differences end. So says a former medical consultant and board-certified internist, comparing Big Pharma execs to the gangsters of American mafias in an op-ed piece on The Daily Beast.
The good doctor makes some very compelling points. The readers of my DEADLY PRESCRIPTION blog, of course, will not be surprised by her comparisons of criminal activities in and around the pharmaceutical industry to those of notorious crime “families,” new and old. In fact, my upcoming novel DEADLY PRESCRIPTION delves into crimes and criminal associations in a fictionalized world where legal drugs are a dangerous, even murderous, business.
The Daily Beast columnist, meanwhile, begins at a place near and dear to me: clinical trials. The old mafia-style pay-off, she points out, leads to “falsified studies.” Admirably, she admits that, “As physicians, we have very little good information to go on,” referring to research based on those bogus, bought studies. She calls it “fraud in clinical drug trials,” citing an expose in Slate.
The physician then, also bravely, points out the pharmaceutical corporations are in the business of buying off doctors, and she’s not talking about a “pizza pie slice” and a “smiling drug rep.” She means the $1.4 billion pharma paid for “researchers” in 2013 alone. The practice puts doctors who have received all kinds of “fees” from the drugmakers on panels “studying” new drugs made by the very same companies.
In this context, “pharma bad-boy” and price-gouging “poster boy” Martin Shkreli seems like small potatoes! It makes perfect sense that what we see on the news – Shkreli being taken into FBI custody on the streets of Manhattan; his public feud with a rapper called “Ghostface Killah” (no Scarface, but there is a Ghostface, and he’s a good-guy!) – adds up to little compared to what we don’t see.
What’s in this doctor’s report is sobering as it is bold. The picture is bleak. Doctors can’t trust research (bought and conducted by pharma). Research is done by doctors (bought by pharma). The FDA buries evidence of fraud (protecting the bull at the behest of bullying legislators and the pharma lobby). Under these conditions, upon what is a patient’s trust based?
What we have, in the case of the pharmaceutical industry essentially buying the results they want at the expense of patient health, is organized crime that is allowed to operate as legitimate, legal businesses. The doctor/columnist quotes another physician/author who studies worldwide medical literature in Denmark: “Much of what the drug industry does fulfills the criteria for organized crime in U.S. law.” Indeed, the Daily Beast article was published in the online newspaper’s “Organized Crime” section.
DEADLY PRESCRIPTION, my novel based on the pharmaceutical industry’s criminal underworld, arrives mid-2016.