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Trust in medical system undermined by big pharma behavior

Corporate profit has the potential to compromise the public welfare and reflect poorly on the integrity of our health care system. While it is hard to question medical professionals there must be a change of mindset to "buyer beware."

Today we look at three examples of questionable behavior by major pharmaceutical companies

High pressure sales tactics: Cases of suicide

Earlier this month, The New York Times published an article about the recent suicide of a sales representative for Abbott India. He left behind a wife and two young children. Why this tragic loss? He could not meet high sales goals.

The Times conducted a six-month investigation, finding that some Abbott managers in India pushed sales personnel to make sales "at virtually any cost." It didn't even matter if Indian law, medical standards and Abbott's own ethical rules were violated.

One controversial practice is the alleged direction to conduct so-called health camps. The employees conduct free medical tests on patients and doctors then prescribe Abbott drugs for resulting diagnoses. Of course, when responding to the investigative journalists, the company claimed there was no requirement to prescribe Abbott medicines as part of the arrangement.

Exponential price increases: EpiPen prices

Pharmaceutical company Mylan has been the target of recent outrage for steep increases in the price of its EpiPen auto-injector device. As most know EpiPen delivers a potentially life-saving dose of medication to reverse dangerous allergic reactions in emergency situations. MarketWatch reports that Mylan has increased the price of a two-pack more than 400 percent in the past six years.

According to The New York Times, as of August 24, a pack of two EpiPens is priced at $609, after having been about $100 when Mylan bought the product in 2007. The Times noted that drug companies that own name-brand drugs often raise prices steeply before those brands go generic. And the company has advertised a generic coming to the market at half the cost. But that is still three times the cost of a two-pack less than 10 years ago.

In response to high-level criticism, the company in late August expanded its patient assistance program to help some types of consumers buy the product more easily. But the Wall Street Journal found that people who are uninsured, with high deductibles or on Medicare or Medicaid could still face steep pricing.

Off-label uses: The Risperdal fiasco

In 2013, Johnson & Johnson entered into a $2.2 billion health care fraud settlement with the federal government concerning its marketing of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal and two other drugs. Civil and criminal charges included alleged payment of kickbacks, misbranding and promotion of the drug for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

In addition to the fines, the company agreed to a Corporate Integrity Agreement that forces Johnson & Johnson to be more accountable and transparent going forward, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ said that the company improperly promoted Risperdal for use among elderly dementia patients at a time when it had only been approved for treatment of schizophrenia.

Transparency and accountability are necessary to trust in the quality of care, medicine and medical devices. We will continue to write about misbehavior by pharmaceutical companies and other players in our medical care delivery system as well as potential legal remedies.

Weisfuse & Weisfuse LLP has extensive experience fighting for the rights of New Yorkers and others harmed in the delivery of medical treatment. Schedule a free to tell us your story if injured by a medication error.

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