November 12, 2013

Health fraud

Tue Nov 12, 2013

Very often, as entrapped as we are with local and parochial affairs, crucial developments on the international level, with implications for our own welfare, tend to bypass us.

Just over a week ago, a story broke in the news with massive implications for the health, and pockets, of our own people. That story had to do with record fines at the Federal and state level in the USA on the giant pharmaceutical firm, Johnson and Johnson, famous for baby products.{{more}} That global conglomerate has been fined a total of US $2.2 billion for employing kickbacks and promotion of its medicines as cures for diseases beyond those legally approved. The firm has been doing this for more than a decade.

In the case, brought against J&J, the company pleaded guilty to misdemeanour linked to selling practices for a drug called Risperdal, one of several antipsychotic drugs, as well as for the marketing of Invega for schizophrenia and Naticure for heart failure. The gist of the case is that J&J promoted these drugs to patients with illnesses beyond their legal authorization to do so, including people with dementia and children with mental disabilities.

It is the latest in a number of high-profile settlements by US multinational pharmaceutical companies, including Glaxo-Smith Kline and Pfizer. They have all been found guilty of paying kickbacks to doctors and pharmacies for false promotion of their products, making claims which have no legal justification. It was revealed that cash payments were disguised as consulting fees, and the use of attractions, such as lavish entertainment and perks, were used to get doctors to prescribe and pharmacies to promote treatments for which the companies were not authorized to claim as cures.

It brings to light the ubiquitous TV ads where a product is promoted as a cure, but 10 seconds are spent on telling us about the product, while another minute and a half is taken up with warnings about the side effects which can be injurious to your health. How can the health of people the world over be subsumed to the interests of profit? How can we, the consumers, be legally duped into paying for supposed cures which have no legal justification?

The health of the people of this planet must not be left up to the greed of powerful corporations and to those pharmacies and medical personnel who co-operate with them, whether intentionally or not. Big fines might be imposed, at least at the global level, but so lucrative is the field, that there is always the temptation to re-commit, just be more circumspect in execution. As a small country, we will always have resource challenges; that is every reason for broader collaboration and stricter enforcement at the regional level.