The pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable industry in America, and one of the largest pharmaceutical companies, GlaxoSmithKline, just settled a case with the federal government to pay $3 billion for health fraud. One billion will cover criminal fines and $2 billion will cover civil settlements.
This isn’t the first landmark case. In 2009, Pfizer paid the government $2.3 billion for health care fraud. This raises important questions and concerns about how we individually and culturally have been influenced by these companies and how awareness can help us see healthier choices to some of life’s afflictions.
There are many reasons for the GlaxoSmithKline settlement, one being marketing non-FDA approved drugs, marketing Paxil to minors, and providing heavy incentives to push the medications. Prior to becoming an author, psychologist and mindfulness teacher, I was selling telecommunication networks to businesses in San Francisco, California. I saw and benefited firsthand from the incentives you receive for making big sales. I had friends in the pharmaceutical industry who received those same incentives of trips to Hawaii, large televisions, cash rewards, among others for being leading sales people.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a company creating incentives to encourage sales of telecom, paycheck services, or recruiting, but it just seems a bit different when we’re talking about medication, particularly psycho-pharmaceuticals.
The advertising on television right now that puts a beautiful, heavenly scene in the background to market anti-psychotics to lighten our moods is the latest campaign that is potentially dangerous. Anti-psychotics can have real and unfortunate side effects.
I am not against medication; see my article on Depressed? Medicate, Meditate, or Both. In some instances, it can be highly supportive in getting someone to a place to integrate treatment. However, we need to be aware that there is a cash profiting business behind the sales of these medications and that means a cultural influence that more freely accepts them as a first line of attack against mental afflictions when they should be the last.
This easily and shockingly gets out of control with many people as we start to see giant “cocktails” emerging with people taking 6-10 different medications, one to offset the next.
However, with rulings like these, at least some awareness is raised, but it can easily go away with the right amount of commercials.
Again, I want to be very clear, medication itself is not bad; it can seem like a lifesaver at times. The problem is simply how as a culture we’ve begun to relate to it. If someone is suffering from intense anxiety or crippling depression, it can be a great support to relieve some symptoms in order to be open to treatment.
But when someone has just lost a loved one, we’re quick to prescribe instead of letting the grief take place. When someone is having trouble with uncertainty in their life and experiencing anxiety, many prescribing doctors may offer up an SSRI, instead of offering resources to help the person cope and learn from uncertainty. When someone complains of loneliness, medication is just a band aid. In this case, the disintegration of community for the individual and in our culture needs to be addressed.
On top of it, if we start realizing that we are responsible for our own health and well-being, we can save our healthcare system millions and millions of dollars. Congressman of Ohio, Tim Ryan makes his case for this in “A Mindful Nation.”
This is just my perspective, but I believe that with a more mindful lens on this issue, we may open up to greater perspectives and may see more choices. Sometimes that may be medication, but certainly not as much as is being prescribed today.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Prescription pills photo by Thirteen of Clubs, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
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Last reviewed: 4 Jul 2012