DRUG POLITICS--Some folks are just so awful and scurrilous that jail is almost too good for them. As with the bankers and investment companies that destroyed and burned up the life savings of many Americans since the turn of the century (a form of murder, from a financial point of view), pharmaceutical companies have allowed life-saving medicines (many that have been out for decades and are very inexpensive to make) to skyrocket in price ...
... and one of the most scurrilous monsters of them all, one Martin Shkreli, just got arrested by federal agents in Manhattan.
You remember this despicable individual, right? Heck, even the name "Shkreli" denotes some troll-like connotation (it sounds like "Shrek", although that fictional character was honorable and self-sacrificing).
Shkreli fit the bill of everything wrong with corporate and pharmaceutical America ... a boyish-looking and insensitive hedge fund manager who jacked up a life-saving medication for toxoplasmosis from $13.50 to $750 a pill.
Apparently, Mr. Martin Shkreli illegally took stock from Retrophin, a biotechnology firm he started in 2011, and used it to pay off debts from unrelated business dealings. He also engaged in complicated shell games and false consulting arrangements after his now-defunct hedge fund lost millions.
While it's probably not fair to broad-brush every pharmaceutical company and player with this corrupt and spoiled brat, it is fair to state that pharmaceutical companies--in particular, generic companies--are jacking up prices of medications that should be dirt cheap because...well...they can.
Over two years ago, I wrote the "Doxycycline Debacle" for CityWatch, and the complaints I have today are still entirely accurate:
1) Pharmaceutical companies that make new products sometimes go astray in their pricing, but most of their profits go to the development and distribution of necessary and improved medications...yet generic companies charge brand-name prices for medications that should cost pennies. Brand-name medications are often cheaper to get than generic medications, and their makers are by far more compassionate towards patients.
2) Big-chain pharmacies play all sorts of games to arm-twist patients into generic medications that aren't always cost-effective, and might even have relationships with generic pharmaceutical companies than are anything but kosher. If you want a pharmacist who is a patient advocate, then go to Costco...end of that discussion.
Now one of the most problematic generic companies, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, which makes the excellent and decades-old doxycycline, and charges hundreds of dollars a month for patients who need it (for anything ranging from acne to resistant skin infections), has been caught up in a Department of Justice probe about its sales practices.
No one reasonable expects these pharmaceutical companies to just give away their medications and lose money, but "profits" doesn't need to be synonymous with "plundering".
Particularly when patients' health, and even their lives, depend on them.
There's not a day that goes by when my patients don't complain about feeling victimized by their health care costs--and their drug costs are particularly part of the problem.
So allow me the guilty pleasure of doing a holiday-season "happy dance" when one of the worst pharmaceutical players of all, one Mr. Martin Shkreli, gets a taste of his own medicine.
And for anyone else trying to make profits--and I mean the obscene profits by which innocent people really get hurt--perhaps another profession than "pharmaceutical executive" is in order.
(Kenneth Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist with offices and clinics serving patients from West Los Angeles to Temecula. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected]. He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)
Vol 13 Issue 102
Pub: Dec 18, 2015