Pharmaceutical Drugs
Your Money AND Your Life

Alternative Medicine Digest

It takes several years and an average of $313 million to bring a prescription drug to market. But this is nothing compared to their real human and economic costs in suffering, sickness, and death.

The price of prescription drugs continues to wildly outpace inflation, and the number of deaths attributed to their use is rising even more rapidly. Both of these stories made front-page news, but the media failed to connect the two and see the bigger–and more ominous–picture. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, the percentage of the personal health care dollar spent on prescription drugs has grown faster than any other segment, including doctor and hospital bills, partly because the prices of prescription drugs have risen an average of 17 percent a year in the last few years. That is over 1,000 percent higher than the 1998 inflation rate of 1.6 percent.

Meanwhile, prescription drug sales in the U.S. have risen from $37.7 billion in 1990 to $122 billion in 1998. It is no wonder that Fortune magazine ranked pharmaceuticals as the most profitable of all industries when measured by returns on equity, sales, and assets. A lead story in USA Today asked, “Why does the allergy drug Claritin cost almost $2 a pill in the United States but only 41 cents in Great Britain?”

The newspaper conducted a survey that found that the most popular drugs often cost up to four times as much in the United States as in other industrialized nations. Even when cheaper generic drugs are taken into account, Americans pay about one-third more for prescription drugs than people in other wealthy nations. The reason for this is that the United States is the one industrialized nation that doesn’t have some form of price controls on prescription drugs. “Pharmaceutical companies use the U.S. as their safety valve,” said Alan Sager, of Boston University’s School of Public Health.

“If other countries negotiate or regulate to win lower prices, drugmakers raise their prices on the hapless American consumer.” U.S. consumers are therefore literally subsidizing drug costs for the rest of the industrialized world to insure the pharmaceutical industry’s profits. Responding to this apparent price-gouging, Richard Jay Kogan, Chairman and CEO of Schering-Plough Corp., manufacturer of Claritan, stated that drug companies must make handsome profits on blockbuster drugs because so much research goes for naught. “Bringing a drug to marketplace takes 12 to 15 years and costs up to $500 million,” he reported. Only one in 5,000 compounds tested becomes a product; only three in ten drugs that do make it to market make back their R&D investment.

Pharmaceutical companies invest more into product development than any other industry–over $20 billion dollars in 1999. Responding to congressional criticism of its pricing, Gerald J. Mossinghoff wrote in the Wall Street Journal that, rather than being focused only on short-term profits, “the research-based pharmaceutical industry prefers to take the longer view...that if we keep on investing in R&D and keep on pushing the bounds of medical knowledge we will someday come up with effective treatments for AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases that cost billions of dollars and untold grief and pain. When these treatments are developed, manufacturers will profit–but the benefits to society will be priceless.” Noble-sounding sentiments, indeed, but the reality of the situation is that the pharmaceutical drugs themselves cost billions of dollars and untold grief and pain. A report by the National Academy of Sciences stated that 98,000 Americans are killed every year by “medical errors,” the vast majority of which were mistakes in prescribing, mixing, or administering drugs. The report put the price on this at $9 billion. Another report by the University of Arizona Department of Pharmacology calculated the cost at 119,000 deaths and $75.6 billion dollars per year. Of the $75.6 billion, $47.4 billion was the result of 8.8 million drug-related hospitalizations, representing 28% of all hospitalizations.

But even that is only half the story, because these figures related to incidents where mistakes were made. A 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that 106,000 hospital patients die and 2.2 million are injured each year by adverse reactions to prescription drugs, not including cases where errors are involved. In other words, another 100,000-plus patients die from the normal side effects of prescription drugs, even when properly prescribed and administered. Estimates of the concomitant cost approach $140 billion dollars annually. Thus, when the total number of deaths is calculated, the use of prescription drugs is this country’s third leading cause of death, behind only heart disease (number one) and cancer (number two).

And looking at the real cost of pharmaceutical drugs, for every dollar spent buying them, we spend at least another dollar–up to two dollars–attempting to repair the damage they cause. The tragedy of this is that the degenerative diseases that plague our society are never going to be cured by pharmaceutical drugs. They do nothing to address the cause of disease; they only mask or suppress symptoms and, in so doing, create new problems. These are artificially manufactured, unnatural substances that poison and weaken the body. There are many natural remedies that work even more effectively, with no side effects and at a fraction of the cost.

I urge you to study alternative medicine and establish your own vibrant good health as the ultimate in disease prevention. But if you do get sick, employ effective, nontoxic remedies with which, when you spend a dollar, you won’t have to spend two dollars more recovering from the medicine that is supposed to heal you.

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