Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Solution To Pharma's Repeated Drug Offenses: Incarceration

Some straightforward common sense follows. No spin, no indirection, no excuses:

Pfizer has recently paid a $2.3 billion dollar settlement on civil and criminal charges that potent drugs were being improperly promoted (i.e., pushed onto unsuspecting physicians and patients) for uses not approved by the regulatory agencies responsible for such matters.

What is the real world meaning of these charges?

The meaning is that patients - the final consumers - were ingesting drugs that were not only not indicated, but held possibilities of harming the drug taker.

We have seen negative outcomes from these practices before in the form of, for example, children in whom improperly pushed antidepressants caused suicidal thoughts and actual suicide (the teenage daughter of a friend of my mother hanged herself after starting such drugs, resulting in a lawsuit that the parents ultimately won).

It demonstrates reckless and malicious disregard for others to tamper with people's lives in this fashion. Perhaps sociopathy is an apt description of such behavior. One wonders about the adverse consequences to patients of this latest round of pharma fraud.

Ultimately, those engaging in these practices (usually at the group director or VP level) are doing the following:

They are gambling with the lives and well-being of countless patients.

In some of these cases, patients will have been harmed; in others, patients will have died. In the former case, the perpetrators of the fraud are facilitators of the injury. In the latter case, the perpetrators are accessories to murder.

Fining a corporation is a nearly useless exercise, as ultimately the conversation in the executive offices and Wall Street will be about the cost of doing business, not about crimes or morals. Terminating perpetrating individuals is also not extremely effective in motivating reform, even if terminated with prejudice, if those terminated have already made their fortune.

(The $2.3 billion could have been used, in fact, as a war chest to reduce the need for layoffs during economic downturns, like our current one, were it not wasted in paying fines due to the behaviors of unscrupulous executives.)

The solution to this problem is straightforward. Deal with the individuals involved in the following manner:

Where the executives behind these abuses belong: jail

Time in jail for these executives is a needed remedy.

The following, however, is the situation we have:

This is inexcusable. Healthcare advocacy groups and relatives of those injured need to lobby for the solution proposed in the first picture: long, stiff sentences for those committing medical fraud and quackery by proxy in the form of these industry abuses.

Finally, the Pfizer scenario causes me to ask:

Is the leadership of this company competent to manage its operations? Or, is that leadership - for instance a CEO lacking science and biomedical education and experience - an "enabler" of the creative marketing for drugs -- creative advertising campaigns being seen as a virtue in his prior industry?

-- SS

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