“PROFITS BEFORE PATIENTS REIGNS SUPREME AT FDA”
By Mark A. York (December 12, 2017)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) In the midst of a national opioid crisis, the federal agency that monitors drug ads has issued a record low number of warning letters to pharmaceutical companies caught lying about their products.
The Food and Drug Administration has sent just three notice letters to drug makers busted for false marketing their medications to unknowing consumers, the lowest ever since the FDA historic decision to ease strict rules for drug ads in 1997. “It certainly raises questions,” said Dr. David Kessler, head of the FDA from late 1990 through 1996, who’s industry credentials would add weight to the issue of why the FDA is not doing more to monitor false marketing campaigns by Big Pharma and Opioid Drug makers in particular.
The FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion monitors all ads drug companies issue to make sure patients aren’t being scammed by false assertions or misleading marketing campaigns. Which now seems to be the norm, based on the hundreds of lawsuits filed against Opioid Drug Makers in the last 3 months, and recently consolidated into Opiate Prescription MDL 2804 see Opioid Crisis Briefcase-Mass Tort Nexus, where Big Pharma is being sued by states, cities and counties across the country. The primary claim in almost every suit is long term boardroom coordinated false marketing campaigns designed to push opioid drug prescriptions at any cost.
BILLIONS IN PROFITS
The pharmaceutical industry spent a vast $6.4 billion in “direct-to-consumer” advertisements to hype new drugs in 2016, according tracking firm Kantar Media. That figure has gone up by 62% since 2012, Kantar Media says. This number may seem large at first but compared to the multi-billions in yearly profits just by opioid manufacturers over the last 15 years, the numbers is small. Corporate earnings have risen every years since the push to increase opioid prescriptions in every way possible became an accepted business model Big Pharma boardrooms across the counrty.
FDA PLEADS NO STAFF
But the agency has long struggled to keep track of the thousands of ads published each year, largely due to lack of staff.
There are approximately 60 FDA staffers responsible for keeping track of at least 75,000 ads and other promotional material published each year. Although in the age of electronic monitoring and hi-tech tracking of data it would seem that monitoring drugs such as Schedule 2 – 4 narcotics or other drugs that are considered high risk for abuse, the FDA could create a quarterly e-review or a flagging system when new campaigns are started by Big Pharma.
“It’s a very, very small unit,” a former high-ranking FDA official said. “It’s historically been underfunded.” Which seems to support the contention that Washington D.C lawmakers are in the pockets of Big Pharma and the hundreds of lobbyists they utilize to ensure a true lack of oversight in the pharmaceutical industry as a whole.
Additionally, many of the ads are submitted to the FDA for review at the same time they begin to run. So by the time the assessment is complete the ad has “already had a significant impact,” the FDA insider said. This policy flies in the face of the creation regulatory oversight based on the fact that when a problem or an issue with a product is discovered, the FDA, EPA or other agency should enforce the law and correct the problem. In the case of the FDA, that is not happening and Big Pharma is and has been aware of the lack of oversight for years.
Critics say the FDA needs to do more to stay on top of an industry with a history of trying to maximize profits by at times misleading consumers, which has recently been described as a policy of “patients before patients” which has resulted in the current Opioid Crisis that’s firmly in place across the United States.
The number of public admonishment letters has been at or close to single digits from 2014 until 2016 during the Obama administration, records show. The FDA sent out 11 of those caution missives in 2016, nine in 2015 and 2014, and 24 in 2013.
A SINGLE FDA WARNING IN 2016
This year, one of the warning letters was sent to Canadian drugmaker Cipher Pharmaceuticals, ordering it stop using deceptive promotional material to hawk its extended-release opioid ConZip.
The ad failed to note “any risk information” highlighting the potentially addictive nature of the powerful painkiller, the FDA letter issued Aug. 24 said. The promotional material was also misleading because it asserted other treatment options “are inadequate,” the oversight agency concluded.
“By omitting…serious and potentially fatal risks, the detail aid…creates a misleading impression about the drug’s safety, a concern heightened by the serious public health impacts of opioid addiction, abuse and misuse,” the FDA said.
The agency demanded that Cipher “immediately cease misbranding” the medication. The drug company responded by yanking the promotional material, the firm’s execs said in a statement issued after the warning letter was made public.
But that was the single caution letter issued to an overhyped painkiller by the FDA this year so far, records show. The other caution letters were sent to Amherst Pharmaceuticals for the insomnia drug Zolpimist, and to Orexigen Therapeutics Inc. for its weight loss drug Contrave.
There are many long term FDA and other senior DC officials who have for whatever reasons, chosen to defer reigning in Big Pharma sales and marketing abuses and now it appears the corrective action has been undertaken in federal courts across the country by mass tort lawyers in litigation which will apparently make the “Tobacco Litigation” of the 1980’s pale in financial comparison.
With the primary lawsuits recently consolidated by in the Multidistrict Litigation titled “National Prescription Opiate Litigation” Case No. MDL 2804, recently assigned to the US District Court, Northern District of Ohio. With the key case heading including “prescription and opiate” which reflects the federal court recognizing that opiate prescriptions have become such a major issue the federal courts will now determine the penalties assessed against Big Pharma. The focus will be on the long term “sales and marketing campaigns” designed in corporate boardrooms of Fortune 100 companies, to increase corporate profits, while ignoring the known catastrophic increases in addictions and other inter-connected healthcare, economic and social upheavels caused by the flood of opioid drugs in the US market.
The FDA maintains that letters to drug companies are merely one tool the agency uses to keep the pharmaceutical industry in line.
“We have many efforts to encourage compliance by industry, including our work on guidance, by providing advice to companies on draft promotional materials, and outreach to our stakeholders,” FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Caccomo said. “The FDA’s priorities regarding prescription drug promotion are policy and guidance development, labeling reviews, core launch and TV ad reviews, training and communications and enforcement.” The key terms referred to by Ms. Caccamo are “guidance and by providing advice” from the FDA, when direct enforcement actions are required, as Big Pharma see the terms “guidance and advice” as harmless and not applicable to their efforts to increase sales and profits. In-house lawyers at Big Pharma have reviewed FDA enforcement failures and offered opinions to the boardrooms for years about the FDA not willing to enforce anything close to restrictions on opioid drug marketing and sale practices, all the while reaping the profits of the opioid crisis.
US DEPT OF JUSTICE INDICTMENTS
While the FDA has failed, the US Department of Justice has launched a massive crackdown on opiate drug makers including indictments of company executives, sales & marketing personnel as well as the doctors and pharmacies that have enabled the flood of easy access narcotics into the US market for over 15 years. The question is “how and why” did the FDA drop the ball or was this an intentional lack of enforcement and oversight by the FDA and other agencies due to Big Pharma influence over Congressional members who would blunt any true oversight of drug companies.
US CONGRESS IS NOT HELPING
Perhaps a look at former US Representative Tom Price, will provide insight into how our lawmakers work within the healthcare industry. Rep. Price was appointed by President Trump to head the Department of Health and Human Services, which the FDA reports to, was forced to resign as HHS head due to various transgression within 6 months of being appointed, as well as leaks that while a sitting congressman he enacted a bill favoring a medical device makers extension of a multi-year government contract. Not only did Price enact the bill, he purchased stock in the company prior to the bill introduction and secured a massive profit on the stock price increase after the contract extension was announced. In normal business circles this is considered “insider trading” and is illegal, but when you’re one of those people in charge of creating the rules and regulations, there’s an apparent “get out of jail card” that comes with your congressional seat.
As long as the US Congress fails to correct the lack of oversight by the FDA and other regulatory agencies into what and how dangerous drugs and products are placed into the US marketplace, there will always be bad drugs entering the healthcare pipeline in the United States, with the now enduring default misnomer of “Profits Before Patients” firmly in place in boardrooms and within our government.