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In the national healthcare debate, the costs of prescription drugs and the differences in costs between brand name medicines and their generic versions are drawing public attention. Generic medicines typically cost 30% to 80% less than brand name drugs. The lower costs of generics can bring significant savings to patients and taxpayers, but the big drug manufacturers are working overtime to protect their bottom lines.The European Union has accused many pharmaceutical companies of inflating health care costs by blocking the sale of generic medicines. The big names in European pharmaceuticals are also the big names in American drugs, which means that the same companies are engaging in the same practices on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

In California, the Attorney General has accused Solvay Pharmaceuticals of paying generic drug makers to withhold their versions of Solvay’s AndroGel, a testosterone supplement, until 2015. The generics would have cut into Solvay’s profits, so the Georgia-based company simply paid off its competitors, calculating that the these payments would be less than the company’s lost profits if it had to compete with generic forms of its highly profitable drug.

No industry spends more on lobbying than the drug industry does, and its influence on Washington is one of the major reasons why the cost of prescriptions remains high.

Drug companies have a long history of falsifying research and marketing drugs that they know to be harmful and deadly. They routinely ignore laws, and they treat multimillion dollar fines as standard costs of engaging in their illegal business practices.

A classic example of the drug companies’ approach comes from pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and its popular but largely ineffective antidepressant drug Prozac. When Prozac’s patent was nearing expiration, Lilly faced the prospect of losing millions of dollars in sales to generic forms of the drug. So, Lilly took strong action. The company actually invented a new disease and marketed Prozac as the drug to treat it.

Lilly’s invented disease is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which is apparently the industrial strength version of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS). After inventing its new disease, Lilly changed the name of its drug from Prozac to Sarafem, gave it pretty pink packaging, and used its massive marketing budget to show women of child-bearing age that they were suffering from a mental illness.

Meanwhile, McNeil, the maker of Tylenol, has reacted to the challenges from less expensive generic drugs that contain acetaminophen by cleverly wording advertisements to make Tylenol seem superior. The Tylenol ads contain such vague claims as:

• Doctors recommend Tylenol more than all generic pain relievers combined.

• Tylenol works with your body in ways that have been trusted and proven for more than 50 years.

Of course, the ads don’t say that it’s possible that doctors recommend Tylenol more because McNeil hands out more gifts than the generic manufacturers do.

Meanwhile, doctors such as Dr. Joseph L. Biederman of Harvard Medical School earn huge fees from the pharmaceutical companies for developing the youth market for drugs in his speaking and consulting, and those fees add to the costs of prescription drugs.

The drug industry is huge and powerful, and it has influential friends in Washington, but every individual can take steps to make drugs less expensive and safer. One step is to treat every prescription with caution. No drug is really safe. Even aspirin, which people gobble for every little ache, has potential dangers.

Ask your doctor if a prescription or an Over The Counter (OTC) medication is really necessary, or if it’s just covering up a symptom like a headache. Prescription drugs can be just as harmful and deadly as street drugs.

You can also tell your representatives in Washington that their job is to represent your interests and not the pharmaceutical companies.

Drug companies cause personal injuries and wrongful deaths on the way to record profits so if you have suffered personal injury because of a prescription drug, contact us to learn how we can help you as we have helped others.

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Richard Alexander