Big Pharma sold me contaminated drugs

By Erik Dolson

This morning I read a press release about a recall of the blood pressure medication valsartan because of an impurity that’s a probable carcinogen. This impurity may have been the result of manufacturing changes at Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical – a Chinese company. I was prescribed valsartan six months ago.

So I went to my pharmacy this afternoon and learned that in fact, most of the valsartan they sell came from one of the companies implicated in the recall:

Medicine

Company

Valsartan

Major Pharmaceuticals

Valsartan

Solco Healthcare

Valsartan

Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd.

Valsartan/Hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ)

Solco Healthcare

Valsartan/Hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ)

Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd.

This shines a bright light on an outrageous theft from Americans by pharmaceutical companies, some not even based in the United States including at least one involved in the recall (Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd).

In 2003 Congress passed the Medicare Modernization Act. It was shepherded through by Congressman Billy Tauzin, R–La., who then retired to take a $2 million a year job as president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the main industry lobbying group. The cover story at the time was that the $400 billion cost to Medicare would save millions of American seniors thousands of dollars on their prescriptions.

The actual goal was to shield the pharmaceutical industry from market forces and consumer outrage as they jacked up the prices of drugs 100%, 400%, 800%. With the bill now paid by Medicare, patients would not see the price increases. Under the new law, Medicare was prohibited from negotiating prices with drug companies and U.S. consumers were prohibited from importing their drugs from Canada or Mexico (or anywhere else). Google was fined $500 million in 2009 just for allowing Canadian companies to advertise to U.S. customers.

What a bonanza for the industry! Since 2003, drug prices have soared and are a primary reason the U.S. pays the highest prices in the world for mediocre health care. The initial bill was sold as a $400 billion savings for medicare recipients, but has resulted in more than a $500 billion windfall to the industry. The industry has the largest lobbying budget in the U.S. used to buy off congressmen who are still in office, congressmen who will soon retire and be looking for work for themselves, wives or husbands, and children, and spends far more money advertising drugs to gullible patients who can’t understand what’s being sold than they do researching breakthrough medicines.

What does this have to do with the cancer causing impurities in the valsartan I’ve been taking for six months? A main argument from the pharmaceutical industry against importation is that it threatens patient safety, that imported drugs aren’t adequately tested for quality and purity. I would dispute that drugs in Canada, France, or Brittain are more dangerous than those sold here by an industry that is out of control.

It was the Chinese company that manufactured the contaminated valsartan sent to the companies above for repackaging that discovered and reported the problem. Apparently, the safety of Americans “guaranteed” by the FDA and the outrageous prices we pay for medicine is a sham. Companies that sell pharmaceuticals can import cheap and dangerous drugs, but not those patients who need the real thing.

About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon
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