Opinion | America’s drug problem: Monopoly pricing preys on vulnerable

By Alice Lee, Senior Columnist

The biggest lie Americans are told isn’t that the Vietnam War was a justified stand against communism or that Trump is making America great again, it’s that they must pay upwards of $10,000 a month for a drug to treat prostate cancer. 

The United States has the worst healthcare system in the world with regards to providing urgent and life-saving medicinal treatment. Pharmaceutical companies hold the market hostage to its predatory pricing, forcing millions to line their pockets by bleeding dry those who need help the most. Big Pharma can not be allowed to get away with murder anymore.

Governmental action to counter hyper-inflated drug prices is long overdue for this crisis requiring an immediate remedy. For a country already caught in the throes of an opioid epidemic, it is alarmingly clear the prescription drug industry is in prompt need of a reboot. 

Last month, Illinois State Senator Andy Manar introduced a set of legislation to enforce checks on the expansive pricing power of Pharmacy Benefit Managers and lower the cost of pharmaceuticals. The bills include the creation of a prescription drug affordability board to reasonably fix prices and a prescription drug pricing transparency act to hold insurance companies accountable.

There is no doubt these pending proposals would alter the landscape of prescription medicine by making it more economic and accessible. The focus should be on treating our weak and vulnerable, not making them choose between going without food or going without medicine. 

Pharmaceutical companies defend their price gouging by claiming the money is needed to go toward research and development, a plausible argument many Americans find compelling. But this justification of high drug costs to fund research efforts is highly deceptive.  

Nine out of ten Big Pharma companies, including the well-known Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, spend more on marketing and advertising. The former shelled out $17.5 billion for sales and marketing, compared to a meager $8.2 billion for R&D. 

For those who have turned on a TV in the last decade, those numbers aren’t surprising. When more money is being funneled into TV ads than is allocated to test effective drugs, the narrative is no longer concerned about how many people can be saved but about how many dollars can be made. 

What good are life-saving drugs if they can’t be afforded to save lives?

America prides itself on being a leading global power in innovating and promoting progressive policies, yet unlike other Westernized nations, it doesn’t directly regulate medicine prices. Combating monopolized drug pricing is an epidemic this country can’t afford to lose, not if it means expending the lives of sick people. 

The worst-kept secret pharmaceutical companies are trying to hide from the public is they’re building their empire off the backs of the feeble. Millions of Americans depend on medicine to survive, but pharmaceutical companies have unjustly placed a high cost on the value of life that is simply not reasonable. And if you’re not angry, you’re not paying enough attention.

 

Alice is a sophomore in LAS.

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