If there ever were naïve wishes that parts of Big Pharma might work in more enlightened ways for patients, the attorney generals in 20 states and federal prosecutors, have dashed optimism about “white hat” drug makers. Led by Connecticut’s chief legal officer, the attorney generals have sued a half dozen makers of generic drugs, asserting they engaged in illegal price-fixing to gouge consumers.
The defendant drug makers include: Mylan, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Citron Pharma, Heritage Pharmaceuticals, Aurobindo Pharmaceuticals, and Mayne Pharmaceuticals.
The suit is related to federal prosecutors’ efforts to ferret out criminal dealings by Heritage in the pricing of doxycycline hyclate, a delayed-release medication to treat severe acne, and glyburide, an oral diabetes drug. Heritage itself has sued two of its former executives, blaming them for a price-fixing scheme and for “plundering” the company.
Teva, an Israel firm, is said to be the world’s largest maker of generics. I’ve written about Mylan, which has been at the eye of a scandal over its efforts to jack up prices for EpiPens, the popular anti-allergy medication and device. Mylan has agreed to pay $465 million in federal penalties for overcharging Medicaid and Medicare for EpiPens, with their estimated $1.3 billion in revenue.
Although health experts long have encouraged a robust expansion of generic drugs because they, generally speaking, have offered equivalent health benefits with savings to patient-consumers who aren’t paying the heavy freight of Big Pharma’s research and development, marketing, and branding, these medications have seen their prices skyrocket in recent days, too. The inexplicable, through-the-roof price increases, for example, for widely used generic insulin for diabetes have provoked outrage.
Members of Congress have employed their bully pulpit of bad publicity and the threat of legislation to try to back down some of Big Pharma’s bad players in recent days. But Mylan’s CEO, whose father is a U.S. Senator from West Virginia and whose mother is an influential figure in public education, recently snubbed a U.S. Senate Committee’s request to appear at an oversight hearing about the drug-maker’s federal over-charges settlement.
I see lots of tragic results from dangerous drugs in my practice, and, as a result, I’ve got long experience with Big Pharma. Its arrogance toward public officials and patient-consumers is hitting new extremes, and, simply put, is unacceptable. Congress, no matter what party is in charge, needs to use the various means available to it to serve the American people to halt drug price gouging. Besides investigations on the Hill, regulatory agencies need to stop being industry lapdogs and to act in their correct function as Big Pharma watchdogs—with bark and bite. It’s good to know that prosecutors and state attorneys general recognize that the skyrocketing drug prices may not be the result, as industry leaders like to claim, of market forces but of other, potentially improper circumstance. This is not good and can’t be tolerated.