Before I begin, a couple of notes on the last alternative health newsletter:
- First, there was a typo that snuck through that was pointed out to us by one of our readers. We said that in 1993, the average consumption of aspartame in the United States had risen to 17 lbs per person. In fact, that 17 lbs represents the average annual consumption of all artificial sweeteners put together, not just aspartame.
- Second, the same reader mentioned that some months ago, the FDA quietly allowed L-Tryptophan supplements to be sold again. That is true. However, the official FDA position on L-Tryptophan is still unreservedly (and, of course, unjustifiably) hostile. According to an FDA position paper published as recently as June 2004, it is still the official FDA position that “A virtually unequivocal epidemiological link between ingestion of products containing manufactured L-Tryptophan and onset of Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS) exists.” (Of course, no such link exists.)
Now let’s move on to today’s issue.
The Drug Companies
By their very nature, prescription drugs are the perfect product for a monopoly. Drugs are patented and available from only one manufacturer, and prices can be increased at the discretion of the company with few consumer complaints. How many people who are terminally ill question the cost of drugs prescribed by their doctor? During the 1980s, inflation rose 58 percent, and yet pharmaceutical companies managed to triple their prices. In 2001, as the economy reeled and corporate profits sank for the average Fortune 500 Company, drug companies in the top 500 list saw their profits soar by 33 percent over the previous year.
Quite simply, the drug industry is one of the most profitable industries in world, with 18.9 percent annual profits — more than five times the average Fortune 500 Company. In 2000, worldwide sales reached an astronomical $365 billion. The nine largest pharmaceutical giants netted some $30.6 billion in 2001 profits. But understand, it’s not like the other $335 billion was all used to develop and manufacture new drugs. Not on your life.
Drug companies now spend on average over twice as much on advertising as on research. And since 1997, the industry has spent nearly $478 million lobbying the federal government. Also, during that same period, the top 25 pharmaceutical companies and trade groups contributed $48.6 million to federal campaigns. Well over $100 million more went to pay for issue ads, hiring academics, funding nonprofits, and other activities to promote the industry’s agenda in Washington. All told, the drug industry has spent nearly $650 million on political influence in the last six years.
And has all this lobbying had any impact?
Well, according to Reuters:
- U.S. regulators have sharply cut the number of warnings sent to drug makers for false or misleading advertising.
- The Food and Drug Administration, which monitors drug promotions, issued between January 1999 and December 2001 more than 250 letters to companies about problems in their ads, according to Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. However, from December 2001 through September 1, 2002, the agency sent only 19 such letters, a 70 percent drop.
- “It appears that FDA is now granting major drug manufacturers virtually a free pass,” Waxman wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.
And it’s not just the United States
The major pharmaceutical companies have managed to exert undue influence in worldwide attempts to shut down the alternative health industry. For example, the underlying proposal to establish the CODEX guidelines for worldwide standards for foods, drugs, and supplements, etc. has been guided by the three German companies Hoechst, Bayer, and BASF. And as Dr. William Campbell Douglas II is wont to remind us, these three companies were formed when IG Farben was forced to disband after the Nuremberg War Trials because of its role in manufacturing the poison gas used in the Nazi concentration camps.
And what about the millions and millions and millions of dollars spent on “buying” the good opinion of medical doctors?
In September 25, 2000, both Reuters and USA Today reported that 54% of the experts the FDA asks for advice on which medicines should be approved for sale had a direct financial interest in the drugs or topics they were evaluating. These financial conflicts of interest typically include stock ownership, consulting fees and/or research grants.
Understand, these experts are hired (that is paid) by the Food and Drug Administration to advise on which medicines should be approved for sale, what the warning labels should say, and how studies of drugs should be designed. The experts are supposed to be independent, but as USA Today and Reuters both reported, over half the time, they have a direct financial interest in the drug or topic they are asked to evaluate. These conflicts include helping a pharmaceutical company develop a medicine, then serving on an FDA advisory committee that judges the drug. (Talk about double dipping and conflict of interest.)
But the problem is even more extensive than it first appears.
- At 92% of the FDA committee meetings in which drugs were evaluated, at least one member had a financial conflict of interest.
- Conflicts were most frequent at the 57 committee meetings when broader issues were discussed: 92% of members had conflicts.
- At the 102 meetings dealing with the fate of a specific drug, 33% of the experts had a financial conflict.
A specific example can be found in the June 15, 2000, Opening Statement of the Chairman Dan Burton of the Committee on Government Reform FACA: Conflicts of Interest and Vaccine Development: Preserving the Integrity of the Process. In his statement, Rep. Burton revealed:
- That members, including the Chair of the FDA and CDC advisory committees who make these decisions own stock in drug companies that make vaccines. That individuals on both advisory committees own patents for vaccines under consideration or affected by the decisions of the committee.
- That three out of five of the members of the FDA’s advisory committee who voted for the rotavirus vaccine had conflicts of interest that were waived.
And for achieving such results and establishing such influence in the government decision making process, the major executives of the pharmaceutical companies are obviously well rewarded. In fact, the five most highly paid drug company executives pocketed more than $183 million in compensation in 2001. But that doesn’t count stock options. In 2000, the chairman and CEO of Bristol-Myers Squibb, for example, held unexercised options valued at an additional $227.9 million.
And who pays for this
Everybody in every country is a victim. But because the U.S. is the only major industrialized nation that does not regulate the prices or profits of drug companies, prescription drugs generally cost 25 to 40 percent more than in other countries. For 75% of elderly Americans, prescription drugs are their single biggest expense.
The Cost in Health
Last year, there were approximately 3 billion prescriptions filled. That works out to about 11 drugs for every single man, woman, and child in the United States. No human being, no computer can keep track of all the possible side effects of this many drugs. The problem is that each drug effects the body chemistry in multiple (hundreds, even thousands) of ways. As soon as you add a second drug, the interaction between the two drugs increases the possibilities to tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of possible chemical interactions in the body. Add a third drug, and you’re into the millions. Make that 10, 15, or 20 drugs and you’re dealing with numbers beyond comprehension.
Don’t despair. A new field of expertise called polypharmacy is being created to “deal” with this problem. What a joke! As we just saw, there’s no way to comprehend the interaction of even three drugs, let alone the 15-23 drugs that the average senior citizen takes.
The Supporting Cast
There is no question but that the three biggest players in keeping the current system in place and ruthlessly suppressing any dissenting voices are the Medical Establishment, the FDA (and its international equivalents), and the Pharmaceutical Industry. Nevertheless, there are a couple of supporting players worthy of honorable mention.
The Processed Food Industry
Here’s to the people who have brought us refined carbohydrates, massive amounts of sugar and caffeine, hydrogenated oils, petrochemical additives, xenoestrogens, pesticides, irradiated foods, animal growth hormones, and, of course, the omnipresent high-potency antibiotics. And then without batting an eye jumped on the low fat bandwagon (pumping us with transfatty acids in the process), and again without batting an eye the low-carb craze. What next?
And special praise must go to the US Department of Agriculture, who early in 1998, proposed changing the definition of “organic” to include foods that have been genetically modified, irradiated, injected with antibiotics, and grown with sewage sludge (with its incredibly high levels of toxic metals and waste) as fertilizer. It makes you wonder whose side these guys are on. Then again, on second thought, maybe it doesn’t.
It’s worth mentioning one more time that just because the policies of the Medical Establishment, Governments, and Pharmaceutical giants are bad doesn’t mean that the people involved are bad. As I’ve said repeatedly, when taken on a one-on-one basis, most of the individuals involved are good people trying to do the best job that they can. It’s only in group think (and when hundreds of billions of dollars are on the line), that their better instincts are co-opted.
But enough of that. In the next couple of issues, we’ll turn to what is, for me, a more fun topic – the development of a new product. After playing with it (and using versions that I had created for myself) for years, the people at Baseline Nutritionals® convinced me to release the formula that Kristen and I actually live on. In the next couple of issues I’ll talk about how much you can actually squeeze into a product when all price considerations and marketing considerations are removed – and the only requirement is to create the greatest superfood blend ever.