Tuesday, 5 November 2013

More enormous settlements from drug companies

I heard this story on BBC Radio 5 last night and thought it would be everywhere today but I've had to look for it.

In the face of this kind of story I really don't understand why such a fuss is made about tobacco companies covering up evidence that their product is harmful. Since people inhale tobacco smoke into their lungs and quite often feel ill the first time they smoke, tobacco itself is not generally expected to help improve people's health. Even before the days before tobacco control could afford to studies week after week telling us (again) how dangerous smoking is, there can be few people who seriously believed that their health was not at some risk in the medium to long term as a result of smoking.

Only last year GlaxoSmithKlein and now Johnson & Johnson and subsidiaries have now settled multi-billion dollar lawsuits on the grounds of fraud. For companies of such stupendous size and with such stupendous drugs to market drugs for uses other than those that they were designed for should be a matter for criminal liability:
In its plea agreement, J&J subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals admitted that it promoted Risperdal to nursing home doctors and nurses to control erratic behavior in seniors with dementia between 2002 and 2003. ... 
In a separate civil complaint, the government alleged that J&J and Janssen also promoted Risperdal and a similar drug Invega, to control numerous behavior problems in seniors, children and the mentally disabled between 1999 and 2005.
Not only did the charges relate to unlawful marketing, but also the targets were patients whose capacity to understand what they were being prescribed was limited. The report says that the purpose was 'controlling behavior problems', but this involves messing about with brain chemistry and should not be done using the wrong drug (even using the 'right' drug is probably questionable in many cases).

This seems an unforgiveable breach of professional practice. People are entitled to expect better health from prescription drugs in a way that is simply not true of tobacco.

This settlement goes back to cases that took place nearly fifteen years ago. Clearly the profit imperative is very strong in the pharmaceutical market. Somebody will no doubt say that this is a 'few isolated cases', whereas the whole of tobacco is suspect. But it should not happen with pharmaceutical drugs at all, and more importantly tobacco does not set out to be medicinal.

No comments: