• Kaitlyn Viola

The Industry of Dependency

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

Recent statistics from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration place the US at the epicenter of the world’s problem with prescription drugs. Named “the most highly medicated [country] in the world,” with over three billion prescriptions produced in 2001 alone, the US remains largely dependent upon a highly deregulated pharmaceutical industry also known as Big Pharma—one of the most powerful industries in the world. Undoubtedly, the development of medicine has been paramount to addressing health problems, improving the quality of lives, and lengthening life expectancies; but what happens when the influence of greed surpasses the ethical responsibilities of medical professionals to patients?

Brand name pharmaceutical companies have come under notable scrutiny by health critics and medical research professionals in recent years, with many experts condemning the level of “direct contact between pharmaceutical sales representatives and physicians” allowed under the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.)’s regulations. As a federal agency, the F.D.A. holds regulatory authority over nearly 25 percent of the nation’s economy. One of its primary jobs is to oversee the safety of the administration of drug prescriptions—a responsibility intended to be regulated by Congress. However, Congress exists as yet another powerful body showered in financial benefits by pharmaceutical companies, amounting to thousands of checks from political action committees affiliated with the companies. The truth remains: the United States is still in dire need of more “stringent regulation with respect to brand name pharmaceutical company marketing,” and relationships between physicians and pharmaceutical sales representatives reflect a significant conflict of interest that poses a substantial threat to the well-being of consumers.

Common findings by experts outline marketing costs for Big Pharma to substantially surpass funds put into real research and development of medicine. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2001, “nine out of ten leading pharmaceutical companies spent more money on marketing and advertising than on research and development.” Medical ethicists, researchers, and health advisory boards highlight the responsibility of medical professionals to prioritize the interests of patients above that of the physician, but pharmaceutical industries’ primary concern is to maximize shareholder profits. Thus, Big Pharma profits at the expense of the well-being of the public and continues to manipulate physicians into often over-prescribing particular drugs to patients. Various findings in medical ethics and beyond call attention to the danger of the perpetual use of prescription medications such as opioids and performance enhancing “study drugs” when taken regularly for sustained periods. Researchers outline the psychology of drug dependence as often resulting in the desensitization of opioid receptors, causing patients to develop a tolerance in response to chronic opioid administration and therefore require growing doses in order to achieve satisfaction or relief. Further, researchers have found “enhanced pain sensitivity” to develop as a result of taking opioids regularly, as the body begins to adjust according to its regular reception of the drug. Beyond the effects of withdrawal, this makes lowering or eliminating the use of the drug all the more difficult.

The phenomenon of drug dependence is an extremely powerful one, making it crucial to demand physicians to fully disclose their financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies, so as to ensure full transparency and ethical justice for patients. In order to improve America’s health systems and healthcare affordability, large-scale changes must be made to curtail the spiraling pharmaceutical issues the country is facing.

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