Prescription

A new paper published in the British Medical Journal calls into question the ethics of the massive pharmaceutical drug industry. It suggests that corporate profits—not true medical benefits—are the driving force behind prescription drugs developed in the last 50 years.

The paper authors claim that as many as 90 percent of the drugs developed in the last five decades provide few benefits while posing serious human health risks. One dollar out of every 20 made in pharmaceutical sales goes towards researching medical breakthroughs for serious diseases while the remaining $19 dollars are spent on drug marketing and promotion, according to Professor Donald Light from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Joel Lexchin from York University in Toronto, who wrote the paper.

The authors relied on independent reviews that support their claims that the industry has become a profit-driven machine rather than a vehicle for treating, curing or preventing disease. Many of the new drugs, they claim, are merely variations of existing products that boost revenue not consumer health.

Light and Lexchin also warn that the claims made by the drug companies are often exaggerated. In some cases, they’re outright lies. Pharmaceutical fraud accounts for some of the biggest fines and penalties in U.S. history. Just last month, GlaxoSmithKline was ordered to pay $3 billion in fines—a U.S. record high penalty—for unlawfully promoting Paxil and Wellbutrin, failure to report safety information, and false price reporting.

Citing an urgent need for changes to the industry, Light and Lexchin suggest the first step is to cease the approval of new drugs with little therapeutic value.

Representatives for the pharmaceutical industry disagree, reports The Daily Mail. According to Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, “The pharmaceutical industry’s medicines pipeline is promising with many new treatments in development.”

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