'War' On Fake Drugs Really An Excuse To Boost Big Pharma; Putting The Poor At Risk

from the realities-of-patents dept

We’ve pointed out similar things before, but Oxfam has come out with a new report, claiming that the claims from developed nations about the need to fight “fake drugs,” is quite frequently really just an excuse to protect big pharma firms from generic competition. No one is denying that actual fake drugs can potentially be harmful. But, the problem is that the various efforts, including ACTA, to deal with the issue often lump together actual dangerous fake pharmaceuticals with drugs that are simply cheaper but perfectly safe. Oxfam would like to see a legitimate strategy for getting the real fake drugs out of the market, but says the current strategies are all about boosting patent protections, increasing prices for the poor and developing nations and better protecting big pharma against upstart competitors.

The European Union and the United States continue to focus almost exclusively on eliminating counterfeit medicines which form only a small part of this public health problem — but which are a serious concern for their multinational companies. They have used the crisis in medicine quality in developing countries as an excuse to push for new intellectual property rules that will boost the profits of pharmaceutical giants at the expense of affordable medicines for the poor.

Of course, this becomes important when you realize that ACTA was specifically designed to pressure developing nations into adopting these types of new, more stringent patent and copyright laws. Oxfam is hoping that those countries won’t be bullied:

At a time when poor countries struggle to ensure that their populations can get affordable, quality medicines it is outrageous that rich countries and drug companies are pushing ‘solutions’ that will do more harm than good to patients and public health. It is critical that poor countries ignore rich-country pressure, and focus instead on solutions that will ensure both quality and affordability of medicines.

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Comments on “'War' On Fake Drugs Really An Excuse To Boost Big Pharma; Putting The Poor At Risk”

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xenomancer (profile) says:


It seems almost counterintuitive that the makers of the tools of the medical industry do not have to fallow the same ethical practices. Imagine if the pharmaceutical industry actually had to abide by the ethics implied by “first, do no harm” in practice. It’d likely collapse under the strain of oversight. Don’t get me wrong, pharmaceuticals have made modern life possible with effective treatments for serious illness, but there is a serious conflict of interest inherent to their business model. They are not required beyond the bounds of maximizing their profits to provide an adequate supply of affordable medicine. It is simply assumed by many that these companies will do so to maintain a sustainable demand. The recent(ly exaggerated) swine flu panic was a perfect case of this as there was an insufficient supply of vaccine as well as a patent preventing the ethical possibility of a parallel supplier.

Gunther Maplethorpe (profile) says:

Re: Hippocracy

xenomancer said: “…there is a serious conflict of interest inherent to their business model. They are not required…to provide an adequate supply of affordable medicine.”

In the US, the FDA does indeed keep tabs on product supply, especially for those products that onyl have a single supplier (mostly, products still under patent protection). Serious, heavy fines are levied against those companies who fall short of keeping the patient supplied. Granted, affordability is outside the scope of FDA’s mandate, but that’s a separate topic.

xenomancer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hippocracy

“Serious, heavy fines are levied against those companies who fall short of keeping the patient supplied.”

http://www.impactlab.net/2007/01/31/cure-for-cancer-found-but-no-one-is-talking/ (warning: this is old news)

I know this is kind of a stretch in relevance, but this is the logical extreme of what I was implying. The direction of the natural market incentives for pharmaceutical companies are simply skew to the ethical imperative of medical practice. Artificial incentives and boundaries imposed by the government merely put a one-size-fits-all economic band-aid on this situation, which does not change the fundamental conflict of interest. Now, obviously I do not expect to simply be handed brand name medicine left and right for free or to be sold medicine of questionable origin/contents with no personal culpability; that would be asinine. And there is certainly a sizable (and often exaggerated) initial investment in drug discovery relative to the monetary capacity of the average individual. Its just frustrating when ethically questionable protectionism is exactly the behavior predicted/expected/observed on a regular basis without any effective means of correction. This is an industry in dire need of some beneficially disruptive innovation.

(But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.)

… I’ve had a loooong day.

malcolm kyle (profile) says:

This is your Pharma Industry on Drugs

Partnership for a Drug Free America

Sources of Funding from 1988-91
Extracted from Federal Tax Returns

(figures are approximate)

Pharmaceutical Firms

J. Seward Johnson, Sr. Charitable Trusts — $1.1 million
Du Pont — 125,000
Proctor and Gamble Fund — 120,000
Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation — 115,000
Johnson & Johnson — 100,000
Merck Foundation — 85,000
Hoffman-LaRoche — 75,000

Tobacco and Liquor Firms
Phillip Morris — 125,000
Anheuser-Busch — 100,000
RJ Reynolds — 100,000
American Brands — 100,000

Paddy Duke (profile) says:

Lies, Damn Lies, And Logical Fallacies

Lumping generics and fakes together under the guise of safety should immediately set off alarm bells. It?s totally illogical, and much more dangerous. This is how I see it.

Under a fair system, you might have 3 choices when buying medicine for a given condition:
1. Big Pharma?s brand name, at an artificially inflated price
2. A legal generic drug, at a lower price
3. An illegal generic, at a very low price, with obvious risks

This system differentiates the generics from the fakes (and other untested drugs) pretty well, by maintaining proper regulation of the lower priced drugs.

Under systems like that proposed by ACTA you have only two options:
1. Big Pharma
2. Illegal drugs, generics and fakes.

This system encourages the production of dangerous counterfeit drugs, because it?s much easier to confuse them with legitimate generics.

Thus, any attempt to lump generic pharmaceuticals in with fakes in the name of safety is blatantly disingenuous and should be pointed out as such, as loudly and publicly as possible.

freak (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sounds like you’ve never tried to grow it.
The pH, temperature, and day/night cycle have to be exactly right or the dang plants refuse to bud or develop ‘active ingredient’. The reflection of moonlight through an airvent can be enough to turn what would’ve become a potent plant into a doorstop-in-a-pot.

Nevermind the microscopes, fertilizer, air circulation, and etc. you need to ensure the plants grow to any decent size or produce anything of quality.

Just as a sidenote, I help the local MS society rep teach MS-stricken people with medicinal licenses how to grow their own marijuana. Just so you know.


Re: Re: Green Acres is the place to be.

You are only describing basic agricultural constraints that are true of any produce. So you either locate yourself in the optimal bit of real estate or you invest in a little bit of technology to help augment what you’ve got.

A tiny little bit (like a cheap raised bed kit from Walmart) can go a really really long way.

It’s not a great burden and it’s not limited to pot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Smoking marijuana has been linked with an increased risk of mental illness, and now researchers say that when pot smokers do become mentally ill, the disease starts earlier than it would if they didn’t smoke pot.

This means that serious psychiatric diseases that might not have shown up until kids were in their teens or twenties ? or might never had developed at all ? are starting in children as young as 12 who smoke marijuana.

The link between using pot and developing serious mental illness is strongest in the youngest smokers ? 12- to 15-year-olds, or kids even younger, said Dr. Matthew Large in an interview with Reuters Health.

“We have to (tell) people who have marijuana in their pockets not to give it to younger people,” said Large, who headed up the research at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

Large and his colleagues looked at thousands of patients with psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. People with psychotic disorders lose touch with reality ? usually starting in adolescence or young adulthood.

The authors of the new study found that in the subjects who had been pot smokers, the psychotic symptoms began nearly 3 years earlier than in those who had not been marijuana users.

People with schizophrenia often have hallucinations (they see things that aren’t there) and delusions (they’re often convinced something improbable is true, when it isn’t); they also tend to have unusual or bizarre behavior, social problems, and general difficulty in coping with life. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 2.4 million American adults, or about one in every 100 people over age 18, have schizophrenia.

Matthew Stinar (profile) says:

Create more value than you capture.

Tim O’Reilly famously said, “Create more value than you capture.” I think the consensus is that big pharma is capturing more value than they create. Turning their corporate culture may be like turning an ocean liner, but that’s what it will likely take to change the underlying problem.

James (profile) says:


OK So you want EXTREMELY highly regulated drug development with STRICT pre clinical, clinical and follow up studies. You want treatments and cures that are better with less side effects, or just any treatments for the currently untreatable.
Well all that takes BILLIONS, one company I know well has 1000 highly qualified and well paid staff for over 10 years and currently only one drug on the market.
Drug development is the most expensive development in the world, its not some guy with a guitar and some bad lyrics or even a film studio, drug development makes block buster budgets look like peanuts.
Respects where its due, and guess what, people want returns on their extremely risky ventures and they had better be good returns.

Gunther Maplethorpe (profile) says:

Re: Anger

I echo your sentiments. The populace at large demands that drugs be safe and effective, but the amount of work necessary to show that is immense. New drugs require more than a decade of science by thousands of people, and only a small fraction of potential drugs ever make it past clinical trials. Factoring in the cost of all that failure, one estimate has the cost of getting new drug to market in the first place to be about $1.7 billion – yes, that’s billion with a B.

So, sure, drugs can be cheaper…but they’ll be either less effective, or less safe.


Re: Don't be so proud of this technological terror...

Even with BILLIONS spent on the process it fails as often as it succeeds. We are ALL ultimately guinea pigs for Big Pharma. It doesn’t matter how much noise and money is spent.

When Big Pharma stops spamming rubes, bribing doctors, and creating products that create cascading side effects then they will deserve some respect.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Anger

Well all that takes BILLIONS, one company I know well has 1000 highly qualified and well paid staff for over 10 years and currently only one drug on the market.

No. It doesn’t take billions. You should read “the $800 million pill,” which will disabuse you of industry propaganda.

I’m all for safety tests, but clinical trials and safety tests are not nearly as costly as what pharma lobbyists claim.

people want returns on their extremely risky ventures and they had better be good returns.

Indeed. And what does that have to do with any of this? Clamping down on competition is no way to go through life, son.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Anger

People finally are waking up to the fact that they can do it for themselves many of those things that we let companies do it for us.

We still will need really big investments to discover things, but that doesn’t mean only companies can do it, we can do those things and implement it in a way that people learn in the process.

How cool would it be to teach children how to do recombinant drug production in biology and chemistry classes? After that those medicine batches could be distributed to clinics around the school 🙂

The age of corporate monopoly is being threatened by the age of cooperativism with true capitalistic values and that is beautiful.

You can do your thing but stop others from doing it is just bad business for citizens everywhere.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

All things told...

This is a story which has been repeated in US history so often it may as well be a chorus…

[Industry] is threatened by [new industry] and thru lawyers, legislation, regulatory capture, propaganda, “science” (et al) [industry] takes carefully malicious steps to hopefully insure [new industry] will never become a serious threat to its bottom line.

Seriously how many times has this played out? I can easily think of several examples, and I’m not amazingly well informed.

Can anybody fill in a few (or a few dozen) good examples?

Anonymous Coward says:

@AC So what your saying is that marijuana makes crazy people show signs of being crazy sooner then the would have before? Good then when they find out little Timmy is a schizophrenic at age 15 cause hes smoking dope isn’t that a little better then finding out at 22 after he’s shot up his school or ruined his life?


Truth. Pure THC injected through IV can kill you. Where one might begin to acquire such a highly sought after product is beyond me though. If someone could “enlighten” 😉 me as to where I can get medical grade THC for injection I would be very grateful. I can only seem to find it cut with ethanol for lab testing.

New Mexico Mark says:

Big pharma LOVES fake drugs when they sell them

Two things I find interesting.

1. FDA / Big Pharma antagonism against alternative medicine seems directly proportional to its effectiveness. The really nonsense stuff they are OK with. They just don’t like legitimate competition with alternatives that work.
2. The exception to the rule is that the FDA and Big Pharma are satisfied with selling useless “medicines” as long as there is money to be made.



Anonymous Coward says:

That article came from a recent story on MSNBC. Google mental health and pot and you will find it.

I generally support the pharmaceutical industry because ethical drugs have saved more lives than all the doctors in the world ever have or will. In fact, I would say that the discovery of Penicilln saved more lives than all the doctors combined ever will.

I also support generic drugs. Anyone that buys a branded drug when a true generic drug exists is just ignorant.

Do drug companies cut corners for profit? Sure, but I don’t believe that evil intent is baked into pharmaceutical companies. If you talk with Merck employees, most of them are really dedicated to improving people’s lives. Do they do bad things sometimes? Of course.

Sychodelix (profile) says:


Correlation is not causation. Just checking on the numbers of people that have schizophrenia (or other forms of psychosis) that has not significantly changed in the population compared to the people that use marijuana, which has increased exponentially, it’s obvious that your argument is a fallacy. One study with skewed results, funded by anti-drug lobbyists does not make fact.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sychodelix, you must be sensitive about this topic, this isn’t “my argument” but an article that was on MSNBC. Maybe they are correlated because mentally ill people tend to smoke pot? I don’t know, but the research is out there. Your statement that the results are skewed and that anti-drug lobbyists funded it doesn’t make those facts either.

Sychodelix (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You are correct on one point. Mentally ill people do tend to look to drugs to self medicate, mostly because the majority of Big Pharma drugs do little more than placebo. This may very well be the reason that there are some people that smoke pot and it can cause psychosis, because they were already predisposed to it. There’s virtually no evidence to show that it can do the same to a mentally healthy person.

I’m not trying to prove what I’m saying as fact, I’m just saying if you try to match the studies correlating pot and psychosis with the sociological data comparing pot users to schizophrenia rates, there seems to be no real link between the two. Take it as you will.

Anonymous Coward says:

Drug patents that go for so long are just ridiculous. As an example I take a blood pressure pill called Benicar. In the US it’s under patent for next 5 years still I believe. My current insurance doesn’t cover name brand drugs. Since there’s a patent in the US this drug costs over $100 for 30 pills. Yet I can order from a Canadian pharmacy and get the generic version for about $60 for 90 pills. Doesn’t make a lot of sense. If the US has it’s way I won’t be able to order the generic version at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

How long is too long in terms of patents? A patent lasts 20 years, it usually takes about 9 years for the drug to be approved, so the patent is only effective for 11 years (barring any extensions.)

You are not importing Canada’s patent system but their healthcare system. The govt. pays for all drugs so of course their prices are lower.

If you want to lower drug prices, reimportation isn’t the answer, because the drug companies will just limit the amount of drugs in Canada, thus eliminating their ability to export the drugs. Why make structural changes to a system that can be defeated by business decisions?

Anonymous Coward says:

MBA - wrong industry

In my MBA class the other night, I had a debate with one of my classmates who works for a big pharma company.

We were discussing Porters 5 forces and the threat his industry faces from substitues. He mentioned the fear his company had of people turning to bio-engineering for solutions to their health worries as a potential substitute for his companies pills.

I argued that his company needs to stop thinking they’re in the business of selling pills and to realise that they’re in the business of making people well and therefore should look to expand into bio-engineering themselves!

Big pharma companies are trying too hard to create barriers into their market rather than trying to keep innovating and competing. Unless they wise up, their empires will soon crumble and they’ll be replaced by the next set of innovative companies to offer health care.

Anonymous Coward says:

schizophrenia - cannabis link (reefer madness 2.0)

Whenever you see any science article on a non-science publication don’t waste your time. Try to find a scientific publication or a science blog. Chances are you will understand it better than whatever the science journalist at the non-science media concluded from it. In many cases the journalist will get it absolutely wrong. Why bother reading an interpretation of something you can read yourself?

Two recent articles at the Huffington post, one about the Betelgeuse going super nova, and another one about asteroid Apophis hitting the Earth turned out to be bullshit debunked by Bad Astronomy, a science blog. The articles in question have gone around the world, one news media outlet after another repeating the same bullshit.

A few years ago I read about the schizophrenia-cannabis link in some Australian study. If I recall correctly it was a Reuters story. In the original research there was a speficic gene mentioned in relation to the link. This, of course, was ommitted in all generic news.

If the risk is as high as 60%, as some of the studies claim, why is it that cannabis use have been steadily increasing while schizophrenia has not?

Skepticism and critical thinking are your best bets.

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