Global Resilience Solutions > 2016 > March

That Other Epidemic…

The Pharmaceutical industry is dedicated to using the engine of capitalism to fund research that will conquer terrible diseases and improve quality of life for everyone… so they tell us.

Pharmaceutical companies rank among the largest corporations in the world, doing hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of business annually.  According to the Mayo Clinic, seven out of ten Americans are on at least one prescription drug, of which antibiotics, antidepressants and painkillers are the most common.  That doesn’t even take into account the vast variety of painkillers, sleeping pills, antihistamines and other drugs that don’t require prescriptions.  Put like that, pharmaceutical medicine has gone from being the hope of the ill to an integral part of the national lifestyle.

So let’s take a closer look at this lifestyle, its promises… and its risks.


Curing Diseases

There was a time when pharmaceutical companies did make material contributions to treating and curing disease, from antibiotics to AIDS drugs.  But since the late 1990s, that sort of thing has tapered off quite a bit, with research and marketing increasingly focused on repurposing existing drug patents.  In other words, it’s easier to find something else for an existing drug to do than it is to invent a new one.  The new one is more expensive to develop and test, and failed trials are complete financial losses.

A great deal of the industry’s investment in new research goes into developing the kind of drugs that have real prospects for long-term use – medicines to manage chronic disease and “everyday” medicines.  And the instances of dishonesty in scientific studies and trials of pharmaceutical drugs have been rising consistently for at least the last twenty years, with a fifteen-fold increase in retractions.  And those are just the ones who got caught.


Causing Health Problems


As we age, the tendency is for the medical system to pour more and more prescriptions down our throats, regardless of whatever diet, lifestyle, emotional issues, stress or other factors may be causing our health to break down.  This leads to the classic snowball effect where a pill causes side effects, so you take another pill to deal with the side-effects, and perhaps another to deal with tertiary effects and so on.  Quite apart from the list of rather serious side-effects each medicine may cause on its own (I was rather bemused to come across “asthma-related death” as a side-effect on a friend’s prescription asthma drug), doctors tend to give all too little thought to, and in many cases have little training in, the prevention of harmful drug interactions.

Official EU and UK data suggests that pharmaceutical drugs are on the order of thousands of times more dangerous than either dietary supplements or herbal remedies, and US studies have shown on the order of a hundred thousand deaths attributable to pharmaceutical drugs per year.  And that number includes only people who took them as directed.  The number of people dying in the US from pharmaceutical drugs more than doubled between 2000 and 2008.

How could this situation occur?  There are many factors, from drug companies falsifying studies (an increasingly common practice), fudging government approval, rebranding existing drugs for new purposes and suppressing news of dangerous side effects, the exaggeration of the benefits of a drug, and so on.  But the bottom line really is that it is in the monetary interests of all parties except the patient to promote a potentially profitable drug.  And the patient, because of the prescription system, has very little choice.



Not only are pharmaceutical companies not pushing the frontiers of life-or-death medicine, they actually spend more money on marketing activities than on research.  Dr. David Belk researched the financial reports of 14 major pharmaceutical companies over an 11 year period, and found that from a total combined revenue of $4.44 trillion, $853 billion was profit, $735 billion was spent on research, and $1.33 trillion was spent on marketing.

Of course, that doesn’t all, or even mostly go to the television commercials we’re all bombarded with:


There has never been a more critical time for us to become self-informing citizens and take responsibility for our health.  The system is not going to do it for us.  In fact, all the evidence indicates that the system has a vested interest in making us sick and drug-dependent for as long as possible.


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

~ Anthony S. Rodger, M.A.

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