Pharmaceutical ethics (or lack thereof)

Last week I wrote of about the profit increasing practice of evergreening carried out by large pharmaceutical companies. This week, I address an even greater lack of morality, the sale and promotion of drugs which are known to be unsafe. We would like to think that in this day and age of sound regulation this should not be an issue, but this is far from the truth.

One example of this is Swiss company Hoffmann-La Roche’s anti acne medication, with the chemical name Isotretinoin sold here in Australia as Roaccutane. Given the pervasiveness of the condition, it is widely prescribed when antibiotic treatments have failed. In the past financial year, around 160,000 scripts were filled for it under the government subsidised Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Yet, in America, Roche has not sold the medication for nearly 4 years after it was successfully sued by former users who suffered inflammatory bowl disease. It has also been linked to a greater potential for depression in users. If one visits the Roche website, one finds an entire tab dedicated to ethics. Yet if the company continues to reap millions from selling here a dangerous product deemed unfit for the US market, it means very little. Clearly, in spite of what they may espouse, large pharmaceutical companies have a long way to go.

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