View attachment 29373 We are a nation of drug addicts. Not of cocaine, heroin or cannabis, but over-the-counter medical prescriptions.
The Department of Health annual report for 2001-12 puts the cost of prescribing medicines as £8.3 billion - an enormous sum.
Just over 35.5 million prescription items alone were dispensed to treat diabetes in 2009-10 at a cost of nearly £650m, a rise of more than 40 per cent over five years.
It would be fatuous to suggest that we don't need drug treatment at all or that drugs are an unnecessary luxury. They can offer effective treatment for many ailments.
But for the huge drug manufacturing monopolies drug treatment is a golden goose.
These firms have no interest in the prevention of disease and the eradication of its causes, which would seriously undermine their extremely profitable business.
They are also adamantly opposed to the use of much cheaper generic drugs or those whose patent protection has run out.
Drug companies make minimal and unnecessary changes to a medicine if its patent is due to expire and then often charge the health service many times the real cost of its manufacture.
View attachment 29376 A report in the Daily Mail a year ago quoted a representative of one UK-based millionaire drug manufacturer, which had raised the price of a widely used drug by 1,000 per cent over two years, saying arrogantly: "I don't have to justify my profits to anyone." This kind of price inflation is not exceptional.
Drug companies making everyday medicines for the NHS are profiteering outrageously by imposing huge price rises for commonly prescribed drugs. It appears that they can charge the NHS virtually what they want.
Drug manufacturers also have enormous lobbying powers.
Among those with the biggest clout are Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilley, Novartis, Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline.
In the US, which keeps far more detailed records of lobbying by firms, the top 20 pharmaceutical companies and their two trade groups lobbied on at least 1,600 pieces of legislation between 1998 and 2004.
Pharmaceutical companies are reputed to have spent $900m on lobbying in the US between 1998 and 2005 - more than any other industry.
During the same period they donated almost $90m to political candidates and parties, giving approximately three times as much to Republicans as Democrats.
The industry has 1,274 registered lobbyists in Washington.
View attachment 29372 In Britain the present Parliament contains at least 13 leading Tories, including Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne, with business interests connected with privatised healthcare.
In 2006 the Guardian revealed that multinational drug companies had been lobbying ministers in an attempt to subvert the independent appraisal process and obtain approval for large-scale use in the NHS of their expensive new medicines.
The report stated that over eight months of the year in question senior executives from 10 drug companies had met ministers to press for favourable decisions on their products. The executives were said to be highly critical of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), Britain's independent expert body set up to decide which drugs are cost-effective for use in the NHS.
The pharmaceutical companies are determined to get rid of Nice, which is the only barrier to their total dominance of our health service.
Leading these companies in their lobbying is the world's biggest drug company Pfizer, which meets with civil servants regularly to press its case. US-based Pfizer has a projected annual revenue this year of a mind-boggling $59.6bn (£28bn).
Medical investigative writer Ben Goldacre's recent book Bad Pharma examines the way the big pharmaceutical companies cook their research and twist governments and medical practitioners around their little fingers.
The companies manufacturing the drugs conduct their own research trials and are under no obligation to publish all their findings. They therefore pick and choose which data they wish to use.
"Unsurprisingly," Goldacre says, "these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer."
View attachment 29374 Everyone from Nice to the doctors prescribing these drugs is kept in the dark about how effective they are and even what the side effects may be.
And scientists or medical professionals who question the manufacturers' claims are often subject to intimidation, harassment and persecution.
More than 10 million prescriptions for sleeping pills are given out each year in the UK.
One in 10 British people are now taking sleeping pills regularly, and prescribing these costs the NHS £50m a year.
It is this kind of mass-scale medicine rather than specialist-use drugs that really interests the big drugs firms.
Sleeping pills are one of the most widely prescribed drugs, but provide no long-term solution and can become addictive.
A Harvard University study this year suggested that long-term use can lead to the onset of dementia.
It concluded that pensioners who used benzodiazepines, which include the most commonly prescribed sleeping pills temazepam and diazepam, were 50 per cent more likely to succumb to dementia.
But for the big pharmaceutical companies our addiction to sleeping tablets is a very lucrative source of income.
In the last 20 years the number of prescriptions for benzodiazepines has fallen by 40 per cent, largely due to concerns that patients were becoming addicted, but they remain one of the most commonly used drugs and there are fears some patients are taking them for far too long.
Unsurprisingly the demand for hypnotic drugs (sleeping tablets) has been rising again since the recession kicked in.
Help sites on the internet for those suffering from insomnia inform us that watching too much TV, eating too much or even having too many fluffy toys in our beds can produce insomnia.
Few suggest that sleep disorders are more often associated with stress, whether at work or in the home or both.
It is a simple truism that people's health is largely determined by standards of living and lifestyle. Poverty, social insecurity and redundancy with their associated stress are the chief causes of ill health and these are incurable by drugs.
Many academics believe the side effects may be so harmful that doctors should avoid prescribing them altogether.
Professor Kevin Morgan of Loughborough University's Sleep Research Centre explains that in any case sleeping tablets treat the symptoms of insomnia, not its causes.
He argues that the NHS should be looking beyond sleeping tablets to other forms of treatment.
Breaking the health service's dependance on the big drug-pushing companies would mean enormous savings.
That includes taking medical research from the grasp and turning it into a socially funded exercise outside the control of private capital.
This wouldn't just reduce costs enormously but it would mean effective generic drugs could be used more often.
It's time to get the corporate drug-pushers off our backs.
Monday 29th October 2012. Morning Star Online.
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War on Britain's top drug pushers is long overdue