risperdalIn her February 23, 2014 piece for Time Magazine, “Small Science, Big Diseases,” author Nathalia Holt argued that “Big pharma … is risk-averse. They have good reasons for this. Bringing a new drug into the marketplace is incredibly expensive. By some estimates, it costs $350 million from the rough experiments to final clinical trials. If you are going to make this kind of investment, you want to be reasonably sure it is not going to fall somewhere in the middle. Even more important, you do not want to have all your eggs in one basket. Better to spread the risk over many therapies and other technology proven to work and, perhaps most importantly, the right market of people who can pay for it. While this conservative mindset undoubtedly serves many industries well, for drug development, it is flawed… because great science is inherently risky.”

This model also effectively forces drug companies to cultivate and groom massive markets for their products, and this business pressure leads to debacles like what happened with Risperdal. 

Stopping Inappropriate Drug Company Marketing Tactics

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing of drugs on television is one of the more peculiar phenomena of the modern age. As author John Lamattina wrote in an editorial for Forbes, “Maybe it’s time for drug companies to drop TV ads“: “Drug ads seem to be … notable because of the controversy they cause. After celebrity chef Paula Deen developed diabetes, she inked a deal with the drug company Novo Nordisk, prompting an angry editorial in the journal, The Scientist… is there something especially bad about any single celebrity deciding to shill for a particular drug or medical device, like Paula Deen telling us to eat cheeseburgers and also take good care of our diabetes? Maybe yes, maybe no. Is there a problem with how these products are marketed in the United States today? Absolutely.” 

Lamattina argued that: “the justification for direct-to-consumer advertising has been focused on patient education… it is believed that advertising encourages patients to open a dialogue with their doctors about medical conditions and illnesses – communication that might not have previously existed.” Many fibromyalgia sufferers allegedly found relief after becoming “awakened” by TV ads to better drugs to alleviate their suffering. 

Frankly, that justification is a monumental stretch, especially given the pharmaceutical companies’ business models. Drug companies need to create markets for their products; otherwise, they cannot stay in business and compete. Direct-to-consumer advertising is, first and foremost, just about creating potential customers. Frankly, it is inappropriate to “guss up” DTC ads as some kind of “patient education.” It is a marketing play, if there ever was one.

Lamattina catalogued the negatives: “Many consumers find the commercials offensive… [and] the intent and implications of these ads has come under particular scrutiny.” Also, “companies spend billions of dollars on the TV ads… money that could be better spent on R&D.”

By sponsoring conferences, holding doctor education events, and engaging in other dubious marketing business, drug companies often make a mockery of our whole system of health care. How is it even possible that pharmaceuticals companies have been allowed to have such a profound influence on policy — and such cozy access with influential medical leaders? 

Science is supposed to be an objective game, but what is happening in the real world of medical research is anything but rational or objective. How can such a system be reformed? Who will stand up and reform it? Given the astronomical amounts of money at play, is there any hope?

The truth is that reform is possible, but success will require that victims (and family members of victims) stand up for themselves and for the common good.

For insight into your Risperdal case, call the Davis & Crump team now at 800-277-0300 or email us at info@daviscrump.com..