🔒 Alec Hogg: Why so many are cynical about Big Pharma

Among the most astonishing things about the Covid pandemic is the manner in which the public has swallowed Big Pharma‘s message. And, allied to that, the way people who retain healthy scepticism of anything the industry says are cast as ignorant fools. After reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain, a 560 tome that strips away any illusion about Big Pharma’s true motives, there can be no doubt that better balance is required.

This is an industry with a long and dodgy record of putting profit before people. So it shouldn’t surprise us that many struggle to swallow the recasting of Big Pharma as mankind’s saviour. Especially after analysing mortality data of a virus painted as an existential threat to the species.

Empire of Pain chronicles the astonishing story of the modern equivalent of Wild West “snake oil” salesmen, the Sacklers, an American family which went from penniless immigrants to multi billionaires in little over half a century.

The Sackler route to super wealth and naming rights at the highest profile cultural institutions – including the Louvre, MOMA and Smithsonian – was via at best naive and often complicit GPs who were heavily incentivised to promote Sackler-made pain killers.

The family’s first golden seam was Valium, a heavily marketed and massively over-prescribed pill that’s a supposed panacea for maladies ranging from anxiety, muscle spasms and seizures through to alcohol withdrawal and pre-surgery sedation.

The family’s Mother Lode, however, was its creation of highly addictive OxyContin, which since being approved in 1995 by the FDA under dubious circumstances, generated an estimated $30 bn in sales for the family business, Purdue Pharma.

Keefe was among the first reporters to pose some tough questions about OxyContin in an article for The New Yorker – and received reams of legal threats for his trouble. He never wavered, and in his superb book meticulously exposes this disgusting example of profit above principle.

Empire of Pain is as much testament to Keefe’s persistence as the belated realisation by US authorities that this Heroin-type prescription medicine was the root cause of a national opioid epidemic claiming half a million American lives.

Purdue Pharma has gone bankrupt under a mass of law suits. Attacks on the Sackler family continues.

But what bothers me, and should you, is how Covid vaccine “saviour” Johnson & Johnson also jumped on the opioid bandwagon – and in July agreed to kick in $5 bn of a $16 bn settlement, the largest in Big Pharma’s history. Given the industry’s track record of paying large and regular fines, that’s a stunning indictment.

Of the 16 reviews of Keefe’s book on aggregator Book Marks, the review section of Lithub.com, nine are “rave” and the other six “positive”. My favourite, however, is from outside the Lithub elite. It’s by Sheela Clary of the Berkshire Edge, a publication serving a smallish county in the US state of Massachusetts.

Clary is close to the story at a local level, with her assessment of Keefe’s book weaving in real life examples of OxyContin tragedies. That takes the story away from faceless victims to everyday people. Here’s the link to her moving piece, which will hopefully spur you into investing in the eye-opening Empire of Pain.

More for you to read today:

– Some vaccines last a lifetime. Here’s why Covid-19 shots don’t.
– Elon Musk’s SpaceX returns private astronauts to earth after three days in orbit
– The Facebook Files – A Wall Street Journal investigation

PS The next BizNews Investment conference, BNIC#3, will again be held at Champagne Sports resort and will include a special concert at the nearby Drakensberg Boy’s Choir school. For full details of March 2022’s gathering of the BizNews tribe, click here. Please book early – we had dozens of disappointed wannabe participants for BNIC#2 earlier this month.


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