Commentary: We need some new rules for Big Pharma

FILE - This Oct. 14, 2015, file photo shows the Food and Drug Administration campus in Silver Spring, Md. On Tuesday, April 17, 2018, U.S. health officials proposed steps to improve the government’s system for overseeing medical devices, which has been subject to years of criticism for failing to catch problems with risky implants and medical instruments. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

It’s time to change, limit or ban the unfettered ability of Big Pharma to constantly (are you watching your TV?) advertise to the every man, woman and child on earth (including vulnerable seniors and confused and desperate sick people) tempting them to simply seek out these over-advertised, over-priced medications, offering “cures” aimed at myriads of feared diseases, including very obscure medical conditions.

In the 1970s, this flakey practice of weird advertising was virtually non-existent, while not technically illegal – but certainly unethical in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and some of the 90s. Advertising by doctors, clinics and hospitals was considered a very poor practice, and certainly not appropriate.

Sadly, lawyers started this advertising, then universally considered inappropriate, and very tacky. Medical care followed, then pharmaceutical companies jumped in. A true societal battle was lost then, but not appreciated for what it would portend.

Big Pharma needs some legislated advertising “New Rules” – as they will never self-correct their unethical money-grubbing behavior:

1) No overtly happy people, no picnics, parties or dancing.

2) No cute animals like dogs, cats, elephants or otters.

3) No known famous or old songs.

4) No actors, ever! Only real patients having these diseases who truly benefitted, without serious side effects – aka, really cured.

5) No paid doctors, nurses, or pharmacist spokespersons. This will eliminate 99 percent of these “experts” – trust me.

6) Only facts and proven data – which must be first approved by an outside panel of appointed scientific experts (from the CDC, NIH, FDA, etc.).

7) Only mentioning reasonable “side effects” – not every single thing ever reported – done so they can say we “warned you.” This barrage of information simply mind numbs consumers, making actual recall of it virtually impossible.

8) Never, ever, saying again, “Ask your doctor if this is right for you”. We literally hate this happening because, if it was proven to be “right,” we would already be using it. Really!

This advertising is highly inappropriate and wastes billions of dollars that could literally go to reducing the astonishing costs of many medications – including the skyrocketing prices of previously and relatively “cheap” medicines.

When I was medical director for Salt Lake City Fire Department’s Paramedic Division the 1980s, the cost of a dose of epinephrine (adrenaline – 1mg), used for cardiac arrests and severe allergic reactions, was 10 cents a vial. Believe it or not, it can now cost up to $650 a dose.

This is not a pharmaceutical research invention. It is a natural chemical found in everyone, including animals, and is easily produced. This incredible price is gouging – plain and simple. Pharma does it because they can, and will continue to do it, because Congress has been impotent in passing laws that would:

1) Set caps on initial drug prices and increases – requiring absolute proof of need – and never more than the annual cost of living (COLA) percentage.

2) Allow unfettered, national negotiations with Big Pharma to get prices like, or less than, what other countries have long achieved by doing the same – like Canada and the UK – and to a more artificially limited amount, Medicare. We are the 800-pound gorilla, if simply unleashed.

3) Allow no increases, except every 10 years, in drug prices for the Veterans Administration.

4) Require every licensed pharmaceutical company, based on size and income, to produce and provide “at cost” one or more what are called “orphan” medications – those needed by a small, but vital, group of patients with critical, but often rare diseases. Obviously, these medications will never create windfall profits for pharmaceutical companies, but are a needed and moral necessity to provide as part of their license to function (often at record profits).

5) Partner with other countries, and large non-profit foundations (like the Gates, Zuckerberg, Soros, Paul Allen foundations, etc.), to create a large, world-funded pharmaceutical research and production entity, to do what Big Pharma refuses to do, or charges exorbitant prices for. The “United Nations Ethical Pharmaceutical Enterprise” sounds really good!

6) Big Pharma often pays generic drug manufacturing companies what I call “blood money” not to start producing critical medications just before they go off patent – which usually happens after a 20-year (from patent submission) “protected” period. They actually do this. And it is currently legal, believe it or not.

As we say at the Academy, “Onward, through the fog…”

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Jeff Clawson, M.D., inventor of the Priority Dispatch System and co-founder of the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch invented emergency dispatch codes that improve the efficiency of emergency calls. Clawson was photographed in his office at National Academies of Emergency Dispatch office in Salt Lake City on Friday, August 6, 2010.

Jeff Clawson, M.D., is medical director of the Division of Research, Standards and Academics at the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, Salt Lake City.