Stopping manipulation in the pharmaceutical industry

By Minju Park, Columnist

It’s finally spring in Champaign-Urbana with rising temperatures, blooming flowers and spring showers. But along with the changing season comes the spread of the common cold, as the cool spring weather provides a conducive environment for the virus to spread.

One of the most popular solutions for the cold are the over-the-counter medicines that promise symptom relief.

Walking down just one aisle in a drugstore provides a variety of lengthy brand names that allure consumers into choosing some drugs over others: ”Mucinex Sinus‑Max Severe Congestion Relief,” “Tylenol Cold Multi Symptom Caplets,” “Vicks NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu and DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu Caplets,” or even “Theraflu Honey Lemon & White Tea Multi-Symptom Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer.”

The strategic naming of these basic over-the-counters alludes to the pharmaceutical industry’s manipulation of marketing and media portrayal to make a profit. These practices must be regulated in drugstores in order to ensure fair healthcare  for consumers — from cold medicine to drugs treating life-threatening illnesses.

A simple analysis of different drugs’ ingredients can point us in the exact direction of the industry’s exploitative behavior. Most cold medicines are actually made up of the same three components: a cough suppressant, a nasal decongestant and a pain reliever. Cold medicines intended for evening dosages also contain a sleep aid ingredient that makes you drowsy.

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    This illustrates how minimal the differing effectiveness is between one cold brand and another — even between a name brand and store brand product, which can differ drastically in price.

    Not only are there options between brands, but there are different versions of cold medicine among each brand. For example, Tylenol offers about eight different types of cold medicine including “Tylenol Cold & Flu Severe,” “Tylenol Cold Max Daytime,” and “Tylenol Cold + Head Severe.”

    However, with closer analysis, all three of these “different” types contain the exact same three ingredients — Acetaminophen, Guaifenesin and Phenylephrine HCI — in the exact same quantities .

    While these versions are nearly identical, they are priced differently. The 24-count of the “Tylenol Cold & Flu Severe” is priced at $6.48 at Walmart, but the 24-count of the “Tylenol Cold Max Daytime” is priced at $10.08.

    There is a problem when an industry that is supposed to be improving the quality of life and providing health care is discreetly manipulating its consumers for profit.  There needs to be a distinction between the way businesses dominate in a profitability model and the way pharmaceutical companies provide unbiased service of necessary healthcare for suffering individuals.

    Further, the corruption in the pharmaceutical industry expands beyond the price of cold medicine.

    Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, is notorious for immorally utilizing his power over drugs for profit. When his company acquired the rights to Daraprim, a life-saving drug utilized to treat HIV or cancer patients, he increased the price of the drug by 5000 percent, from $13.50 to $750 a pill.

    Turing claims that the price increased because of the lack of demand for the product. He also assured that the profits would be used for research to develop new treatments.

    Whether the case for Turing was justified or not is not the point of concern, because so many other companies have done the exact same thing — raise the prices of drugs treating life-threatening diseases such as tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis.

    There must be more public awareness and discussion about the corruptible practices of these pharmaceutical companies in order to provoke regulations on the prices of drugs. Instead of treating pharmaceutical companies with the same nonchalance that we give to big businesses, there must be a certain degree of government control in order to ensure that citizens receive the treatment that they need.

    Minju is a freshman in Media.

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