Big Pharma: Corruption and Unethical Practices

Posted by Amanda Nieweler

on February 2, 2016

Big Pharma: Corruption and Unethical PracticesHippocratic Oath: The ‘Father of Medicine’ would be turning in his grave over today’s corruption

If the Hippocratic Oath was taken seriously in many instances, then doctors would not be able to be swayed by pharmaceutical big-wigs. There would not be any allegations against pharmaceutical companies for manufacturing and promoting drugs that aren’t FDA approved, and then bribing doctors with extravagant gifts to influence them into prescribing the drugs.

Corruption and unethical practices are endemic at every step of the pharmaceutical business, according to WHO (World Health Organization). One only has to turn to the seemingly on-going saga of GlaxoSmithKline to know this. Their case seems to be wide spread across the globe.

It seems that GSK is a leader in pharma fraud and wrongdoing. But other industry big-shots are close behind. The past decade has seen whistleblowers and government investigations all over the world shedding light on a never-ending series of problems by numerous pharma companies in all areas of the industry.

A WHO factsheet states that “corruption in the pharmaceutical sector occurs throughout all stages of the medicine chain, from research and development to dispensing and promotion.”

Corruption in the pharmaceutical supply chain can take many forms:

  • Products can be diverted or stolen at various points in the distribution system
  • Clinical trials may be conducted without proper regulatory approval
  • Royalties may be collected through manipulation or disregard of the patent system
  • Products may be registered with incorrect or insufficient information
  • Demand for favours may be placed on suppliers as a condition for prescribing medicines
  • Counterfeit or other forms of sub-standard medicines may be allowed to circulate

As well, drugs might be produced via counterfeit methods and that leaves us with products that are less effective, and possibly hazardous. Corruption can also occur during the inspection process and this allows sub-standard products to be given a government stamp of approval.

Have you heard recently about the popular cold remedy Cold-FX? Apparently it doesn’t work. It’s nothing but a placebo for treating colds and the manufacturer has known that for more than a decade – there’s lawsuit before the BC Supreme Court. Proudly made in Canada, the manufacturers sat on statistics from years ago claiming the product does nothing. Yet sales were pretty good with Don Cherry’s (CDN hockey enthusiast extraordinaire) face plastered on it’s promotional materials.

Rest, lots of liquid, and a great book is what I always say!

The corruption and manipulation in the industry diverts medicines away from where they are most needed, while the production of substandard pharmaceutical products can be dangerous to patients’ health – jury is still out on the affects of Cold-FX.

Cold-FX manufacturer’s VP of medical regulatory affairs said the drug has to be used “chronically” for a minimum of eight weeks in order to work. Sounds like a strategic plot to drive revenue to me. At $20 to $50 per unit, it worked!

WHO states that corruption is so widespread because medicines pass through a large number of intermediaries before they reach the patients who actually need them. Every step provides an opportunity for corruption to take place, driving up the cost of the medicine or diverting it toward the wrong recipients. And it’s really hard to fight because it’s not really reported on. Whistleblowers fear retaliation and people often feel powerless to influence change.

One can only imagine what the culture is of these companies that resort to this type of corruption. Who’s to say that they won’t stop at turning a blind eye to everyday internal issues like, employee theft, accounting fraud, and harassment and abuse?

eBook: 5 Steps to Create a Whistleblower Culture