On Thursday, February 27th, The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy and the Salve Regina student film club screened the 2012 documentary “American Addict.” The film presented shocking statistics about the overuse of prescription pills and examined the corrupt system that has produced this dangerous situation. America represents 5% of the world’s population but consumes 50% of the world’s prescription pills and the makers of the documentary had a clear mission to explain that this is no accident. According to the producers’ summary, “This film reveals the relationships between the FDA, big Pharma, physicians and the media that are in place to ensure that medical problems are treated primarily with pills.”
The film opens up with a montage of the early deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, all victims of addiction to over-the-counter drugs. Doctors talk about the obsession that Americans have with the idea that our problems can be fixed with a pill. It becomes clear that celebrities are not the only victims, but that thousands of Americans die of side effects that are caused by improperly prescribed drugs or a dangerous mixture of the multiple pills that the average person consumes. And behind these tragedies is an astonishing story about a powerful industry that has transformed American society to increase its own profits. Pharma lobbyists in Washington outnumber the Congressmen that they pay large campaign donations to and there is an endless supply of money that will stop any attempt to slow down the growth of the Pharma industry. Eli Lilly is treated as a prime example of exactly how powerful the Pharma companies truly are; even after being fined over a billion dollars for improper and illegal marketing of one of their medications, they are not likely to stop since profits far exceed the penalty.
The documentary also provides us with a long list of reasons why the FDA may never be able to effectively regulate prescription drugs. When the Pharma company submits its application for approval, the report is so large that the FDA is simply unable to carefully review it. When President Bush added part D to Medicaid, it required that Pharma companies contribute funding directly to the operations of the FDA. This plan has backfired because it created an atmosphere where employees of the FDA can feel like their job depends on the success of Pharma companies. President Obama has left the insurance companies in charge, and this has not helped that situation. Pharma companies still name their price to Medicare, and that price is paid. With such a high potential to make a profit, it is unrealistic that Phara companies will suddenly decide to do business differently. They will continue to try to buy politicians, and get laws written in their favor. The film points out that President Obama, received more contributions from the Phama companies than any other candidate in history.
Acccording to the film, we may not even be able to trust our own doctors, who are often influenced by the industry to recommend drugs we don’t actually need, and that may not even be approved for the condition we have (an illegal practice known as “off-labeling”). The incentives for doctors to prescribe pills are just too high- for instance, a doctor may be offered significant payments for simply just joining a telephone meeting. In the end, many would agree that it is our own individual responsibility to be aware of what we are putting into our bodies and to not allow ourselves to be a part of this deadly system. The problem needs to be stopped at the source, and you and I are the source.