FDA's Response to Pfizer's Misdeed
The FDA’s response to this latest scandal was to force Pfizer to resubmit all reports of adverse reactions through the “proper channel” that would enable the agency to identify serious problems such as suicide, depression, and other psychiatric disorders induced by Chantix®.
FDA officials said these new reports did not change the agency’s position on the risks and benefit of the controversial drug, which received a black box warning that included suicide—the strongest caution possible—in 2009. In other words, other than warning of the lethal side effects a user of Chantix® faces, the FDA has no plans to withdraw it from the market.
FDA officials did say they are considering changing regulations to allow expedited reports of suicides and other serious problems. This change was first proposed by the FDA in 2003, but is still pending. This is just another example of the glacial pace at which the FDA moves even as body counts pile up from side effects inflicted by prescription drugs the agency erroneously approves and then allows to remain on the market far too long.
A one-month supply of Chantix® costs about $179, which is typical of what patented drugs now sell for.
Pfizer Seeks to Delay Sales of Generic Lipitor®
According to the New York Times, the largest introduction of a generic drug in history is being impeded in another devious scheme perpetrated by Big Pharma.
Lipitor® is the best-selling drug of all time, generating sales of $106 billion over the last decade. Pfizer has told financial analysts it is preparing for the loss of Lipitor®’s patent with a variety of business moves to preserve market share.
In a letter to pharmacists, Pfizer is asking many drugstores to block prescriptions for a generic version of Lipitor®. This cholesterol-lowering drug lost patent protection on November 30, 2011.50
One of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit managers issued instructions seeking to have pharmacists keep filling prescriptions with the more expensive Lipitor® for six months. Pfizer will provide large discounts to benefit managers that block the use of generic versions of Lipitor®.
This tactic will benefit Pfizer and benefit managers at the expense of employers and taxpayers, who are on the hook for paying more than they should for an off-patent drug.
Pharmacy benefit managers function as middlemen between drug companies and insurers and employers that sponsor health insurance plans. In too many cases, these “pharmacy benefit managers” function as shills for pharmaceutical companies to cause more expensive name-brand drugs to be used in place of low-cost generics.
How Generic Price Gouging Impacts Members
Through the International Strategic Cancer Alliance that was founded five years ago, we at Life Extension are constantly interacting with patients who utilize off-label drugs to better control their disease. Since insurance does not fully cover these medications, patients are finding it difficult to afford the cost of their medications. Here is an email excerpt from a prostate cancer patient regarding a generic medication he is using:
“Cabergoline is very costly, around $600 for 60 days’ supply. This has eaten up my insurance allowance for drugs. Your latest email indicates necessity, but is it possible to lessen amounts taken without hindrance to outcomes?”
Cabergoline is a generic drug that suppresses prolactin release from the pituitary gland. Life Extension has long recommended this drug to certain cancer patients, though it is not recognized by the FDA for this purpose.55 Prolactin makes prostate cells more sensitive to the growth-promoting effects of testosterone. By reducing prolactin levels, cabergoline has a potential role in prostate cancer treatment. In addition, lowering prolactin results in a reflex increase in dopamine, which has the beneficial effect of inhibiting angiogenesis—the formation of new blood vessels that facilitate the growth and spread of most cancers. Furthermore, increased dopamine enhances neurotransmission which improves clarity of thinking or cognition. Therefore, cabergoline is a true multi-tasking pharmaceutical agent that increases the therapeutic index or ratio.
The patient who sent us this email concerned about the high cost of cabergoline may risk his life by taking a lower-than-recommended dose because he can no longer afford it. Yet this is an off-patent generic drug that should cost only a fraction of what is being charged. Generic drug prices change daily, so by the time this article is published, generic cabergoline might once again be affordable, or it could cost even more.
A physician on the Life Extension’s Scientific Advisory Board wrote us about eye drops he needs for glaucoma that will cost $99.20 a month for the rest of his life, despite having Medicare and AARP. That’s $1,200 a year just for eye drops. This physician wonders how our health care system can tolerate such blatant price gouging. A calculation of the price for the generic version of this eye drug is $2.50 per drop, which prompted the dispensing pharmacist to say to the doctor, “This is a license to steal.”
Life Extension® has published over the past four decades about how generic drug prices are artificially inflated because of FDA over-regulation and pharmaceutical industry corruption.
What We Are Doing to Fight Back
The October 2011 edition of Life Extension Magazine launched a new book titled Pharmocracy. This book exposes how pharmaceutical companies collude with their allies in the FDA and Congress to cause inflated drug prices.
Copies of Pharmocracy have been sent to the president, all presidential candidates, and every member of Congress. The purpose is to enlighten political leaders about free-market approaches that can resolve today’s health care cost crisis that will otherwise put Medicare, Medicaid, and the private sector on the chopping block of bankruptcy.
We initiated a massive promotion to get this book into the hands of policy-making think tanks and to the public. We need to alert them to the harsh reality that it is mathematically impossible to resolve the health care cost crisis by increasing taxes, slashing payments to doctors, or asking Medicare recipients to pay more toward their own medical expenses.
The only solution to overpriced medicine is to abolish all restrictive bureaucratic regulations and let the free market do for medical practice what it did for computers and cell phones, i.e. enable scientific breakthroughs of unparalleled magnitude to occur at rapid speed while slashing consumer costs to comparatively nothing.
I want to thank Life Extension members who purchased four copies of Pharmocracy (at only $8 each) to personally send one each to their two senators and representative.
For those who have not done this yet, please do not let apathy stop you from letting your voice be heard in Congress. In Syria, protestors are being murdered in the streets and dragged from their homes, yet they still defy government edicts knowing that snipers are waiting to kill them. For just $32, you can obtain four copies of Pharmocracy and send them to those in our government who have the power to change the corrupt health care system that is bankrupting this country.
While it may seem impossible to dislodge the stranglehold that pharmaceutical interests hold over the federal government, I am convinced that unrelenting exposition of the truth will tear down corrupt barriers that cause consumers to be serfs of the pharmaceutical industry.
For longer life,