Why didn’t I know about the film, The Constant Gardener (2005) before now? I happened to catch it on cable and was blown away by how good it was and that I’d somehow missed it back in that day. John LeCarre, who wrote the novel upon which the film is based, always has an interesting take on government and this movie generated a rather deep conversation at my house.
The premise of the story is that a Swiss-Canadian drug company is testing a new TB drug on poor Africans without their informed consent. Casualties are being covered up to save the company three years and millions of dollars–the cost of reformulating the drug so it wouldn’t kill people.
“These people would die anyway,” one character said.
Everyone’s complicit in the coverup: the British government, African officials, some medical professionals and of course, the drug company. The film was riveting and spellbinding. After the first few minutes, my husband observed, “I think this movie is going to make me angry.” As it progressed, he said, “It just makes me sad.”
We know that things like this have gone on in the real world. Unscrupulous drug companies have in fact tested drugs on populations they consider “disposable.” It’s a fact. We know it, but we try to push it to the back of our minds. And I’m certain that many institutions and organizations have covered up such nefarious activities.
It occurs to me that our entire society is built on things like this, bad things that we cover up, ignore and just don’t want to think about. Because if we really had to think about them and do something about them, our society would disintegrate. Our world is built on illusions, to some extent. They’re the pillars that keep everything in balance. Take one out and the whole thing would come crashing down.
Something that’s both sad and maddening.
Big Pharma’s hands are very dirty. That’s a fact, too. And the nation’s drug regulatory agency, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), is complicit. Conflicts of interest abound at the FDA, calling into question the very approval process by which we’re supposed to be kept safe. Big Pharma is in bed with the FDA. Just think about what that means.
Here’s an interesting story about the birth control drug, Yaz, which was approved by a corrupt FDA panel, despite being linked to serious and fatal side effects. The drug was also hyped as a panacea for women with PMS and acne. Of course, patients who took it were seven time more likely to develop thromboembolisms than those who did not, making it arguably the most risky birth control drug on the market. You ought to read the story–it pulls back the curtain on the dirty little secrets in the FDA.
Here’s another one, this time about Tamiflu and the claims it made that weren’t supported by scientific data.
Even our first-aid kit pain relievers have come into question. Do you remember taking Tylenol for hangovers in your youth? Today, we know that you’d risk liver damage. Something as simple as a headache reliever can be harmful to our health. I can’t help but wonder what substances we assume are safe are actually not safe at all — while our FDA hen house is full of foxes.
Oh, and did you know that Pres. Obama appointed a Monsanto vice president and LOBBYIST as Deputy Commissioner for Food at the FDA? Yep, he was the food safety czar when genetically modified organisms were allowed into the U.S. food supply without undergoing any testing to determine their safety or risks. And he comes from a special interest that has benefited from more than one questionable FDA approval. (Yes, I know, government/special interests have always had a revolving door that goes both ways. Yadda yadda yadda …)
Consumers really must beware, when they take prescription medications. Natural and alternative treatments for common ailments are looking better and better, in my view.
After recent news articles revealing that some generic drugs weren’t the exact formulations of the originals, and that thorough tests of their effectiveness weren’t required, I talked to my kindly pharmacist about the two medications I’ve been taking for years. He pointed out that my insurance company only covers the generic versions and that my cost for the original formulations would be hundreds of dollars a month. We talked a little further and he said “We normally see drugs that aren’t effective being changed over time. That’s not happened with your drugs, so I think you’re probably safe.” I appreciated his candor, but it was clear how many interests are involved in our health. First, Big Pharma, that wants to make the biggest profit possible, even if it means cutting corners on drug research that would benefit consumers. The FDA, who wants to satisfy Big Pharma interests for many reasons. Insurance companies, who also are concerned with keeping their record profits at the cost of their customers’ health.
It’s a tangled web of secrets, lies and sometimes bold actions right out in the open. And what’s so infuriating and yes, sad, is that we feel impotent. That we think we can’t do a thing about it, except do our best to stay healthy and not take drugs at all. In fact, the whole system depends on our impotence.
Ah, America. We’ve still got a ways to go.
But, this isn’t just bad news we can cluck over. It’s actionable news. In other words, we can do something. We can look more closely at the medications we ingest. Ask more questions. Do more personal research. We can seek alternative, natural treatments–cautiously and intelligently. And, if we’re politically active, we can write letters, make phone calls, sign petitions.
It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of agencies like the FDA and industries like Big Pharm.
BTW, we don’t have to be.