The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Do You Really Want to Take That Pill?

Jul 5, 2004

Are we really getting a prescription we need or is the doctor prescribing it because he or she was paid to do so? Could we get well with a lower-cost generic drug? How can you tell?

Pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough has been giving doctors more than $1,000 for each patient with liver disease for whom the doctor prescribed the very expensive treatment called Intron A. The manufacturer of Intron A is, of course, Schering-Plough. And if a doctor wrote prescriptions for a competing drug, he or she no longer received checks from Schering-Plough.

Supposedly doctors police themselves to prevent such bribes. Fifteen years ago, the American Medical Association adopted a guideline that doctors should not accept any gift worth more than $100. But many doctors apparently didn’t consider the money they received from the drug companies as gifts. They aren’t–they’re bribes!

In the last three years, drug company Pfizer agreed to pay a 430 million dollar fine, Astra-Zeneca paid a 355 million dollar fine and TAP Pharmaceuticals paid an 875 million dollar fine to settle criminal charges for paying physicians to use their drugs. Schering-Plough set aside 500 million dollars for legal "problems" over the last two years–just an expense of doing business!

The huge sums paid by drug companies to settle criminal charges show just how profitable the bribery has been for the drug companies. A few hundred million in fines is apparently nothing when compared to their multi-billion dollar sales when the doctors are prescribing their products.