Pill Popping

With all of the recent talk about contraceptive pills and the persistent issue of men attempting to control women’s bodies my thoughts were directed to our access to pills in general. In this country, there’s a pill for just about everything. Years ago if someone felt sick, experienced an emotional setback or needed a little motivation, s/he would call a friend to chat, maybe go out for a drink, get a little kick in the rear-end and/or simply get moving. Of course, those remedies may not apply if the setback is something like losing a job or watching endless GOP debates and caucuses; that can throw any sane person into the throes of depression. But now, aside from that particular situation, in most circumstances people can turn to doctors for cures in the form of magical take-care-of-everything pills.

New names are created every day for old ailments. Is it because there were a bunch of un-named diseases out there or is it that we’re falling prey to marketing messages-turned-money-making-scams? Or is there another angle? Personally, I’ve wondered if part of the problem is that we seem to be good at creating mass hysteria in order to justify the need for new pills. It’s genius-level marketing at work: create a product and then create the demand for that product.

Sales of pharmaceuticals in America account for half of all sales across the globe. Roughly $300 billion a year is spent on prescription drugs but are we healthier because of it? Many ailments are not and will not get any better and, disturbingly, doctors are often deployed as troops for the pharmaceutical industry; they serve as front-men who push pills to their patients. It’s a big business but, unfortunately, not just for those in the healthcare industry; it’s big money for many elected officials.

Analysis of data revealed that 49 senators who voted against drug importation received approximately five million dollars from industry executives and political action committees since 2001.* This amounts to nearly three quarters of all industry donations to current Senate members and it doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon due to, in part, the power of the ‘Big Pharma’ lobby.

If Big Pharma and their lobbyists aren’t reined in, healthcare costs will remain out of control. And, for bad measure, the problem of undue influence isn’t limited solely to politicians; those who control information the public receives need reining in as well. In what way? Well, unfortunately, the media doesn’t help — not just because advertisements for pills help create the demand but because even those who publicise the views held by the political parties accept pharma lobby money.** Can you say “conflict of interest”?

Follow the money trail; it always leads to answers about how the nation’s policies are formed and influenced. Large cash infusions and active lobbyists have resulted in this nation getting stuck with the bill that goes along with restricted ability to import lower-priced drugs and a government that is unable to adequately leverage its purchasing power (that’s the Medicare Part D fiasco…thanks, George Dubya Bush!).

Lucky us.


*USA Today gathered data presented by non-partisan groups Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) and Political Money Line.

** The National Review Institute, a not for profit organisation that supports the magazine founded by conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr., accepted money from Big Pharma, after which they vilified the Obama administration’s proposal to reduce healthcare costs by both eliminating waste and using more generic drugs that would, ultimately, lead to a decline in Big Pharma’s profits.