Although the political lingo about the "war on drugs" seems to have subsided, there is another battle going on that doesn't get nearly as much attention: the pharmaceutical industry's antics and blatant disregard for public welfare. Recent headlines such as the record-breaking federal fines of Pfizer for their illegal drug promotion highlights the problems rampant in legal drugs or pharmaceuticals. Although pharmaceutical company media campaigns attempt to portray them as working hard to combat illness and save lives, this recent (and recurring) violation demonstrates a corruption that permeates the entire industry. According to Maggie Mahar, author of Money-Driven Medicine, pharmaceutical company spending on marketing far outstrips research and development (R&D). A 2002 Report by Families USA showed the drug companies spent only $19 billion on R&D, while "shelling out some $45 billion for marketing, advertising, and administration." When money governs industry, it's a breeze for ethics to fly out the window.
Aggressive drug marketing and advertising is a relatively new phenomenon, but it is one that you can hardly ignore if you are still breathing. Turn on the television, listen to the radio, or flip through a magazine and you will hard pressed not to see a glossy, sassy ad for the latest prescription fad. Certainly, some drugs can save lives. But peddling dangerous medications through illegal means is not something we should sit back and ignore.
Since 1997, when the FDA essentially gave pharmaceutical companies the green light to mass market their wares, direct consumer marketing skyrocketed into a multi-billion dollar industry. By the year 2005, Pfizer employed a staff of 38,000 sales representatives to market their drugs - nearly the size of three army divisions (Mahar, p.50). A large part of this effort targets medical doctors and selling them to the benefits of a particular drug. Between 1993 and 2003, the price of prescription drugs rose an average of 7.4 percent, more than the rate of inflation. Undoubtedly, the cost of this marketing army and the plethora of ads needed to be accounted for.
And the doctors are not simply pawns in this game. The physicians who participate in such practices are equally to blame. Let's remember that part of the Hippocratic Oath states: "I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect." Waving fancy vacations and massage services in the faces of our healthcare professionals is bad enough, but those electing to join in the game are equally at fault for the increasing distrust of the medical profession and reducing their credibility as professionals.
It's high time for some accountability and the Pfizer fine is a small drop in the bucket. The federal government has to stop looking the other way when it comes to the practices of drug companies. For the sake of everyone's health, we need to address the "other" drug war.