A select group of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical corporations are a well-represented fixture among the most powerful Fortune 500 companies each year, slowly transforming to become one of the largest and most profitable industries in the modern world.
Driven by profit and power, the pharmaceutical industry has shown no regard for personal safety or legal regulations, as consumers continue to trust companies caught intentionally lying to the public, promoting products underpinned by non-objective science and deception.
In the following feature, Ethan Nash explores a few examples of when Big Pharma has ‘got it wrong’ in Australia.
Immunization is considered one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century, and experts agree that immunization is key to staying healthy, including the primary benefit of vaccination, to prevent disease.
Despite the claims, there have been numerous documented cases of pharmaceutical industries intentionally producing products that were known to cause serious negative effects to humans.
For example, in 1960, it was discovered that rhesus monkey kidney cells used to prepare poliovirus vaccines were determined to be infected with the Simian Virus-40.
Across the world, SV40 was found to be present in stocks of the injected form of the polio vaccine (IPV) in use between 1955 and 1963.
In Australia, a federal government agency knowingly released polio vaccine contaminated with a monkey virus in Australia in the 1960s.
The virus contaminated at least four batches of vaccine totaling almost three million doses in Australia between 1956 and 1962:
An investigation has found documents from the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories reveal executives released one batch of about 700,000 doses of contaminated vaccine in 1962 on the grounds that “much vaccine issued in the past was probably similarly contaminated“.
Commonwealth Serum Laboratories knew from its own internal research that the monkey virus was a potential cause of cancer in humans. The research, which was never made public, was carried out in August 1962, while contaminated batches of vaccine were still being released.
The group produced more than 18 million doses of Salk polio vaccine, enough to vaccinate six million Australians, during that period.
Nine out of every 10 Australian children aged between 5 and 14 are estimated to have been injected with Salk vaccine by 1965, when it was replaced with Sabin oral vaccine. Polio vaccinations were given to children as young as three months.
A spokeswoman for the federal Health Department said Australia’s medicines watchdog, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, was ‘monitoring research’ by the US Centres for Disease Control into SV40 and cancer.
Today, polio vaccines are still given on a mass scale, and although the formula and consumption methods may have changed, the same government structure is distributing them to this day.
PFIZER AND LYRICA
Millions of Australians are quietly suffering through chronic pain, and the treatment options remain terribly flawed, despite chronic pain not being on the national agenda in Australia before 2010.
Back then, there were few specialist doctors, no code number for chronic pain in hospitals, and few effective medicines available.
Eight years later, pain medication is one of Australia’s most prescribed type of drugs.
The medication was, until fairly recently, used to treat epilepsy, neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome, and generalised anxiety disorder.
Investigations have revealed Pfizer’s ‘safe, non-addictive’ nerve-pain pill was highly addictive, dangerous when taken with other drugs, and came with a range of nasty side-effects, including suicidal thoughts.
More than 4 million scripts for pregabalin, the drug’s generic name, were written in 2017-18 alone, costing government and consumers more than $171 million.
The drug has been linked to more than 250 drug overdose deaths and six suicides. More than 85,000 Australians are abusing pregabalin, according to one study.
The Influence of Big
Pharma in Australia [Video]
In 2011, the health department rejected Pfizer’s application for a taxpayer subsidy for Lyrica because of “uncertain cost effectiveness”.
In 2012, Pfizer paid a $US1 billion fine after the Department of Justice alleged it promoted four drugs, including Lyrica, for conditions that they were not medically indicated for – and paid doctors kickbacks for prescribing them.
Despite a number of setbacks, Pfizer was determined to win a government subsidy for the drug, then promote it further to doctors and consumers.
Pfizer gave Painaustralia, Chronic Pain Australia and the Australian Pain Management Association, hundreds of thousands of dollars each between 2011 and 2016.
Pfizer also supported the National Pain Summit at Parliament House in Canberra in 2010, as well as the development of Painaustralia’s National Pain Strategy.
That strategy, with a foreword by a scientist speaker from Pfizer who took part in a Pfizer-funded trial on Lyrica, called for Lyrica and other chronic pain medicines to be subsidised.
Shortly after, Lyrica was approved for subsidy in 2012.
The company would continue to spread to influence an array of players in the medical profession, growing more prevalent in Australia as a result:
Health consumer organisations are meant to represent the interests of patients, lobby for funding for conditions, and fight for new drugs to be made available.
Despite this, many accept significant donations from pharmaceutical companies, putting them at risk of a conflict of interest.
Pfizer’s original patent for Lyrica as a treatment for epilepsy expired in 2014, paving the way for the launch of cheaper generic formulations for the condition and generalised anxiety disorder.
In 2012-13, doctors wrote 322,078 pregabalin scripts. In 2014-15, they wrote 2.69 million.
Today, Lyrica and related generic brands are set to be reclassified following concerns over misuse.
All that damage done, yet Pfizer continues to operate and grow as a company today.
In fact, Pfizer was recently caught illegally marketing Bextra, a painkiller that was taken off the market in 2005 because of safety concerns.
Fifty years ago, one of the most extreme cases of Big Pharma getting it wrong in Australia was the distribution of the sedative, Thalidomide, which was withdrawn after thousands of mothers gave birth to disabled babies.
When Thalidomide first hit the market in 1957, 20 million tablets were sold a month until it was withdrawn in 1961.
Marketed as a wonder drug, the pill could be taken for anxiety, the flu, and it would even calm raging bouts of morning sickness, with thousands of Australian mothers take it in good faith.
Thalidomide has strong sedative properties and many women in the early weeks of pregnancy took the drug, utterly unaware its effect on the unborn child can be teratogenic, or ‘monster-forming’.
This entails limbs failing to develop properly, in some cases, also eyes, ears and internal organs.
It’s estimated that 10,000 children worldwide were affected by the drug that was sold in nearly 50 countries, leaving many with to live with severe deformities:
Thalidomide Group Australia, a group that advocates for the ongoing health needs of aging survivors, have spoken on the impacts of the drug over the period it was allowed on the shelves:
“The world has never seen such a medical disaster as it saw with Thalidomide and it is estimated approximately 40% of babies damaged by the effects of Thalidomide died in their first year of life.
Without evidence-based research and believing in the words of a salesman, the Australian Liberal Government allowed Thalidomide to enter our country and be distributed accordingly. The results were devastating.”
Grunenthal, the German company responsible for manufacturing Thalidomide, is still operating in Australia today.
In 2012, the Grunenthal finally offered a public apology to victims, 50 years after the drug was taken off shelves.
Today, fewer than 3,000 are still alive. In Britain, it’s about 470. Among the nearly 50 countries affected, Japan has approximately 300 survivors, Canada and Sweden both have more than 100, and Australia has 45. Spain’s government only recently acknowledged the drug was ever distributed.
The oligopoly of pharmaceutical giants responsible for all three examples listed above would have you believe that these mistakes were isolated, uncommon and not intentional.
These are no mistakes. These examples are simply the influence of Big Pharma in Australia.
When will people wake up and disconnect themselves from the pharmaceutical world?
Pfizer To Pay $2.3 Billion For Fraudulent Marketing | Justice.gov
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