Thursday, 6 August 2015

Conventional Medical Monopoly and Big Pharma Profiteering

The Competition and Markets Authority, the CMA, described as Britain's competition watchdog, has accused two pharmaceutical drug companies of "excessive and unfair" prices for an anti-epilepsy drug. So given my blog yesterday (5th August 2015) about a monopoly in NHS healthcare provision, another aspect of the consequences of allowing a monopoly comes to the fore.

It costs us.

It costs patients in terms of our health, and it costs taxpayers in our pockets.

Big Pharma's monopoly position within the NHS is, of course, supported by our mainstream media, who are willing not only to publicise their over-hyped claims for their drugs and vaccines, but giving us with the impression that these drugs and vaccines are the route to good health, and that 'there is no alternative' to them.

The monetary cost of conventional drugs and vaccines are excessive, and they have been for a very long time. I recall, some years ago, when a drug company, which was facing huge compensation payments for the damage caused by one of their drugs, stated that these payments were not a problem as they were 'factored in' to the cost of every drug.

That is, drug companies are aware that their drugs will cause damage to patients, that the courts will fine them heavily, but they charge enough for the drugs to pay compensation!

What this means is that pharmaceutical companies can charge whatever they like for their drugs and vaccines. They operate within a monopoly. "There is no alternative"!

Normally, drug companies profit from the patents taken out on their drugs. A patent is a device that ensures that the inventor is guaranteed profit by removing all competition. Usually, the pharmaceutical industry justifies these excessive profits by pointing to the huge costs of developing a new drug or vaccine.

But this is not the case here. Phenytoin was first discovered in 1908!

The drug Phenytoin is currently prescribed to 50,000 people in Britain. It is manufactured by Pfizer, and marketed by Flynn Pharma. The drug, previously called Epanutin, used to cost the NHS £2.3 million per year. In 2013 it cost £50 million.

How did they do it?

The clue is in the sentence above. The name of the drug was changed! This is a popular device used by the pharmaceutical industry. They do it in order to obfuscate, to confuse, to pull the wool over the eyes of both doctors and patients. So, when one of their drugs or vaccines is found to be dangerous, they change the name, and call it something else.

For instance , the drug Thalidomide, perhaps the most infamous drug ever given to unsuspecting patients, is now called Thalomid, and is being prescribed to patients to treat cancer and leprosy.

Yet now, it would appear, when the Big Pharma industry wants to make bumper profits from sick people, they change the name of the drug, in this case from Epanutin to Phenytoin.

Actually, there should have been no such confusion. According to Wikipedia (never an entirely reliable, or unbiased source of information, but adequate in this instance) the drug, first discovered in 1908, was initially known then as Phenytoin. It was called Epanutin later. The name changed back more recently when Pfizer sold the British marketing rates to Flynn Pharmacy. And certainly, the increase in price was known to Wikipedia, if not to the NHS, some time ago.

     "The capsules are still made by Pfizer's Goedecke subsidiary's plant in Freiburg, Germany and they still have Epanutin printed on them. After Pfizer's sale of the UK marketing licence to Flynn Pharma, the price of a 28-pack of 25 mg phenytoin sodium capsules marked Epanutin rose from 66p to £15.74. Capsules of other strengths also went up in price by the same factor - 2384% costing the UK's National Health Service an extra £43 million (about $68.44 million) a year.

So what is the NHS paying for, and what are the consequences for British patients? Well, that is quite another story! Wikipedia tells us that in 2008, the drug was put on the FDA's "Potential Signals of Serious Risks" list! So what are these 'serious risk', for which we are paying so much to acquire? They are many and varied (and these are taken from a Wikipedia list)!
  • severe low blood pressure, and abnormal heart rhythms.
  • double vision, slurred speech, cerebellar ataxia, tremor.
  • status epilepticus on sudden withdrawal.
  • atrophy of the cerebellum.
  • megaloblastic anaemia, aplastic anaemia, decreased white blood cell count, low platelet count.
  • birth defects, 'metal hydantoin syndrome.
  • gingival enlargement of the mouth.
  • Hypertrichosis, Stevens-John syndrome, purple glove syndrome, rash, exgoliative dematitis, itching, excessing hairiness, coarsening of facial features.
  • Lupus.
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviour.
  • Decreased bone density and increased bone fractures.
So why have the FDA not acted on these 'serious risks'? 

So why did the NHS not spot that they were being overcharged by 2,384%?

So why do conventional doctors still prescribe such a dangerous, and hugely expensive drug?

So how can pharmaceutical companies continue to get away with profiteering from a drug they know can cause such serious harm to patients?

It is all connected with the monopoly of conventional, drug-based medicine, within the NHS.

It is time that the monopoly is challenged, that alternative therapies, such as homeopathy, are asked by the NHS if they can do better (both in terms of outcomes and cost) than the pharmaceutical industry in treating disease. It is time that the conventional medical monopoly is challenged, and patients are given a proper choice about how their illnesses are treated in future.