Drug Companies Choose Profit Over Patients

The United States faces an increasingly critical short supply of drugs. Cancer patients do without necessary chemotherapy medication and anesthesiologists cope with shortages of propofol — an important sedative. In the meantime, morphine shortages have caused the death of at least two patients when a stronger substitute was administered at incorrect dosages.

Profit Trumps Health

Being a country that shuns national health care in the belief that the free market improves access and care, the current shortages of 150 drugs highlights the dilemma of allowing profit margins to determine health care. When the decision to manufacture certain drugs, or discontinue their production, is based on boosting the bottom-line rather than the welfare of our citizens, questions about the system need to be asked.

Rare Illnesses Shunned

Typically, pharmaceutical companies avoid niche markets where the potential customer base is small, but in recent years, Big Pharma has begun abandoning generics as well because there is less money to be made. Not only are patients with rare illnesses denied drug treatments, but the average person expecting top-notch emergency, or even routine, care at his/her local hospital is being put in danger by dwindling supplies of drugs that are considered staples in health care.

Common Medication Shortages

Morphine for pain control and propofol, a sedative used during surgeries, are just the start. Hospitals can’t get the sterile injectibles they need either, like Bactrim for infections. Epinephrine syringes used on heart attack victims, or those suffering for allergic reactions, are also on short lists across the country. 

No Federal Laws to Protect Patients

The FDA, which loosely monitors drug availability, has no authority to compel pharmaceutical manufacturers to increase production during critical shortages, nor can it force companies to continue manufacturing drugs for niche groups.

Because pharmaceutical companies are not legally obliged to inform the FDA of impending shortages due to production issues or safety concerns, doctors and patients are left in limbo. The chemotherapy drug Leucorvin, which is used to boost the other cancer fighting medications, is in such short supply that some patients are being treated without it.

Rationing Happens

Rationing is the rallying cry for those opposed to nationalized health care, but rationing is exactly what is occurring every day in U.S. hospitals. A patient recently woke midway through surgery because the anesthesiologist didn’t have adequate stores of the sedative Propofol to work with, and in an effort to conserve, didn’t administer enough sedative.

Doctors Call for Intervention

The situation is dire, and groups representing cancer doctors, anesthesiologists, pharmacists and safety advocates will meet in Bethesda, Md., on Nov. 5 in an effort to solve this growing health and safety issue. Though they’ve asked drug-makers and representatives from the FDA to attend, there is no word whether they will or not, and it’s unlikely the problem can be solved without their cooperation.

What Do You Think?

Americans like to believe the free market left to it’s own devices works for them, but in the last decade, the health care and pharmacutical companies have proved that is not necessarily the case.

Should the FDA have the authority to monitor the drug supply and compel drug-makers to inform them of problems and keep supplies of critical medications at a certain level?

Have you been a victim of the current shortage?

Let’s hear your thoughts and stories.


Health Care Rally for Public Option by Leoncillo Sabino


Grace Adams
Grace Adams6 years ago

It might be cheaper in the long run to turn the drug companies into federal contractors the same as manufacturers of arms and armor. Obama wants health care to level off at 20% of GDP. Drugs are about 11% of health care costs. So divided by historic market share, give each drug company its share of 2% of GDP to cover overhead and profits, and make them work for another 0.2% of GDP to cover the marginal cost of making drugs to government order--whatever the government decides the health care system wants. The government will need information and advice from hospitals and doctors to decide what drugs are needed. With such a system--the drug companies should have no incentive to advertise or to send out swarms of salesmen--they would simply take orders funneled through the government and fill them.

Anandjamil A.
Anandjamil A.7 years ago

It seems America,since it being the bigest admirer of Pakistan, is
taking lessons on wisdom and humanity from that country.
I wish all the Americans a very,very GOOD LUCK.

Sherry B.
Sherry B.7 years ago

Corporate America looks at every transaction that occurs in this country as an opportunity for them to make a profit. We have human services in for-profit hands that make other countries shake their heads in disgust. Health care is just one of many and the new law is not an improvement over the old. Once they lost single-payer any good that could have come out of health care reform was not going to happen. Unless and until we, as a country, somehow find a way to take a stand against the corporate take-over of our health care and our food, at least, nothing will change. Most of the world considers health care a right, not something to be manipulated for higher profits. In American the free market is sacrosanct and any effort to remove services or goods from that realm is met with implacable opposition. The fight over this latest health care law is a great example. Why did the right fight against it with a ferocity that surpassed all sanity? Because all republicans and some democrats are wholly owned by corporate interests and when ordered to oppose anything that might even slightly reduce their profits they whip their tame lawmakers into action. By the time the thiing was passed, it had so many gimmees to every profit-making health care vendor that it wasn't worth the paper on which it was written. The drug companies got theirs, the insurance companies, the medical associations, the big hospital chains, the list goes on and on, and who pays for it? You and me.

Skye R.
Skye R7 years ago

Profit over public welfare... Another sad truth about American capitalism.

Peter Clarke
Peter C7 years ago

drugs should be at a set price for everyone

Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS7 years ago

This is going to continue to happen as long as health care, including the manufacture of drugs, continues to be in the hands of for-profit businesses. The economy -- *any* economy -- works on the law of supply and demand, so all businesses are going to want there to be a restricted supply for a large demand so that they can charge more for the scarcity of the product... and that includes drugs and medical care.

If you think cheap, affordable drugs and healthcare are "rights", then you need to get them out of the hands of for-profit corporations and into regulated, non-profic institutions and practices. Rights and profits are antithical to each other.

Jackie S.
Jackie Smith7 years ago

there are many cures for every illness and disease,..
mondanto,.. big pharma,. and energy,. oil etc are what is controling everything,..
the next thing will be usa foods will be contaminated GMO soy,. as over 80 % is grown there,..
all GMO should be destroyed,.
natural medicine ,. is humanities,. gift,. from God,..
once you give away the gift you cannot take it back,.
if gmo soy ,. spreads it will kill everything in sight,. and there is NO CURE,..
people need to be out demonstrating,. and demanding our rights to organic and natural foods and medicines ,. our life depends upon stopping codex allimentarius,..
KILL THE BILL b4 it is to late,..

Derek W.
Derek W.7 years ago

How unsurprising it is that capitalism doesn't provide the greatest benefit in the long run.

Tori W.
Past Member 7 years ago

Does any alive remember the flu vaccine shortage about 15 years ago? It was panic! There was no shortage and when the prices were tripled, then the produce was suddenly available to all. Interesting how our free market system really works and it's not free! The necessary medications will continue to be withheld unless and until the pharma companies get their rates increased. And thank you for health care reform. Really fixed things well!

Diane Thomas
Diane Thomas7 years ago

Quite frankly, I am aware that there is a very strong undercurrent redirection of people's thinking about chemo and radiation therapies and the whole efficacy of using these procedures/drugs to "cure" cancer. There are too many other ways, many of them thoroughly suppressed in the US but not elsewhere, to kill cancer cells without destroying the good cells and tissues of an individual. I know doctors from other countries, my mother certainly knew quite a number and none of them thought very highly of our ways of dealing effectively with a whole battery of diseases and afflictions. Another family member, a registered nurse with many years of scientific training, once expressed to me that she thought the medicine in the United States and patient care quality was just up a notch from Mayan human sacrifice. My mother thought similarly when it came to elderly care. I still feel that way myself after keeping track as best I could with a friends mother who died last weekend. Wow. Talk about making sure the woman didn't live to see 80!! Despicable. Everyone needs to hover over any member of their family in any care facility. I've seen enough to literally write a book scarier than Stephen King could write. Pharmaceutical companies need a to reconnoiter with the whole reality of compassion instead of only thinking in terms of reaping in the bucks. As far as shortages without giving the medical profession notice, my thoughts are this: Don't permit shortages to occur.