As reported yesterday by the Washington Post and others, pharmaceutical companies are paying doctors to prescribe their opioids. According to the report, between 2013 and 2015, “68,177 doctors received more than $46 million in payments from drug companies pushing powerful painkillers.” That, in my opinion, is just not right.
Over 52,000 people died from opioid use in 2015, and according to the National Centers for Health Statistics, the first nine months of 2016 saw a spike in deaths related to opioid abuse. Deaths related to non-opioid drugs from Mexico – although cartels from Mexico do market opioids – pale in comparison to the carnage from marketing by drug companies. Think about it: this is legal marketing of drugs that like heroin and meth will hook their customers in an instant. And should the corporations be permitted to use physicians whose first oath to their patients is “to do no harm?” Where are the adults in the medical profession?
I recall the testimony of the ‘tobacco CEOs’ before congress in 1994. The industry they championed caused millions of deaths – and still does – all while they sold their products with impunity to public health and honesty. Congress never punished those who testified that ‘gummie bears’ were more addictive, giving at the very least tacit approval to capitalism being more important in our country than health and safety of those Congress was elected to protect. Given this backdrop, why should pharmaceutical companies and unethical doctors give a rip about the true cause and effect of their deadly scheme?
The answer lies in our demanding that corporate america play by the same rules that individuals and less-powerful citizens must play by. As an attorney, I could not advise a client to make a deal with someone who unbeknownst to my client was paying me to market to my client, i.e. a kickback. To a society that recognizes fairness as a fundamental tenet of its very existence, is there an acceptable exception to that rule of fairness for those among us to profit from non-disclosure of an obvious conflict. Couple that with ‘death’ being the cost we pay for that exception, and the answer is a screaming ‘NO.’
Until we find a way to ensure only leaders with a backbone are elected as our watchdogs, we can only rely on corporations being as good as the people who run them from the boardrooms. That doesn’t give me much hope.
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