Generic drugs and untouchable pharmacies

The corner drug store is in the rearview mirror of the past.

The corner drug store, like the corner grocery, the corner gas station and the family farm, that operated simply to ink out a living for their families, are just a memory. They are a memory of a simpler time in America, the memory of a hopeful time in America and a memory of a time when the American dream was still viable. Thieves and scoundrels have replaced these trusted individuals; they have been replaced by corporations who cannot relate to the common man, and have no inclination to do so. They have one interest and one interest alone, to make more money and more money on top of that money until the America we have known is bled dry.
These corporations have merged together into a maze of powerful entities that seem to be untouchable. They are the product of deregulation that was born in the Regean years and continues unfettered today. To insure survival and continued prosperity they pour millions of dollars into the pockets of the men and women who pretend to represent us. They are the insurance industry, the investment bankers, the health care industry and the pharmaceutical industry. In our time we have witnessed the birth of a new breed of American,spawned by greed and corruption and born without souls.
I used to purchase prescriptions from Walgreens. I  was dissatisfied with Walgreens for some time and felt they were overcharging, overstepping authority and far too connected to the insurance and health care industries. It turns out my suspicions were correct.
Walgreens trades under the symbol WAG on the New York Stock Exchange. A labyrinth of business concerns and individuals own the corporations, and a company by the name of Dodge and Cox Funds owns the lions share. Dodge and Cox Funds also owns portions of Novartis, Amgen, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co., Pfizer, Wyeth, Wellpoint, United Health Group, Cardinal Health Group and Health Management Associates Inc.
In other words, the prime owner of Walgreens also owns portions of the companies who manufacture the drugs they sell, the insurance companies who decide what treatments you get, whether your prescriptions are filled with brand names or generic drugs and many hospitals.
This is a free market economy and it is not illegal to own, operate and profit from multiple revenue streams, but when that stream becomes a river you can no longer cross, their control over us has become far too great. Walgreens not only fills our prescriptions, but they have the power to set prices and refuse services. Our government, strapped for cash continues to support corporations like Walgreens, and fail to regulate them and another important industry that has a deep connection, the generic drug industry.

The Generics
Generic drugs account for 70 percent of all prescriptions dispensed in the United States. In 2007 this industry posted nearly $60 billion in sales. All generic drugs are not made equal, but some are cheaper than others on the open market. Pharmacies, like Walgreens, are free to give consumers whichever version of the drug that is cheapest for them. Sometime they will fill your prescription with one version, the next time another, and they seldom inform our doctors about what they are doing. The biggest problem with this, as my doctor herself has told me, is drugs manufactured by different companies can vary in strength by as much as 12 percent.
It is argued that generic drugs have the same active ingredients (bio-equivalent) as the more expensive brand name drugs, and this is true, but the purity of those ingredients, especially when many come from foriegn companies in India, Croatia Latin America and so on, can vary.
Not only do variations in purity exist, but drugs manufactured outside the US are not always clinically tested. Congress “streamlined” testing requirements in 1984. Regulations were later tightened again after evidence was found that companies were bribing Federal Food and Drug Administration inspectors. The FDA vowed to carry out full inspections of generic drug manufacturers, both domestic and foreign, but even with the best of intentions, the agency lacked the manpower. The FDA is so understaffed that it is estimated it would take them at least 10 years to catch up on inspections.
Here in the US more than 20 generic drugs have been recalled by the understaffed FDA in the past year alone. You have to wonder how many the understaffed agency has missed, especially overseas.
All brand name drugs approved by the FDA are clinically tested, but because of that testing, generic “bio-equivalent” drugs do not have to go through the same process; they do not have to be tested. As long as the generic drug contains the same “active” ingredient and delivers the same dosage (give or take)  the FDA considers them to be bio-equivalent.
The real issue revolves around how quickly these generic drugs are released into your bloodstream, and this is a very dangerous issue. Release formulas that control how quickly a drug is released into a person’s body are protected by patents. Generic drug manufacturers are left to engineer their own release formulas. The differences in these formulas are the reason why some generic drugs don’t seem to work as well or have more severe or different side effects than brand name medications – this is the 12 percent factor my doctor was talking about.
Many doctors are concerned about how quickly a generic drug delivers its dosage. Drugs that treat, pain, heart disease, and mental disorders have been particularly dangerous in the past decade. A very small difference in the delivery speed of an active ingredient can make a huge difference and can cause toxic overdoses and death. It is like comparing the drinking of a bottle of wine. A bottle of wine, ingested over a period of several hours will have a much different effect than a bottle of wine ingested within 15 minutes – the same goes for the release factor in medications.
When more and more generic drugs come from outside the country the implications for disaster are greatly multiplied. Ranbaxy, and Indian generic drug manufacturer, is a good example of what can go wrong. After several years of complaints, toxic overdoes, allergic reactions, and even deaths, the FDA has finally stopped the import of their drugs, for the time being. FDA inspectors found that Ranbaxy delayed telling regulators about impurities in some of their drugs, mainly a drug called gabapentin, a medication used for epilepsy and other mental disorders, and Fluoxetine a generic form of Prozac.
Ranbaxy also made false claims that their drugs are formulated so they do not degrade over time. Some of their data actually suggests that impurities in some of their drugs never decrease and actually improved over time, which as one researcher noted, is a statistical impossibility. A scientist and whistle-blower who worked for Ranbaxy concluded the information the company provided is “either fabricated or they do not have people who can even do middle school chemistry.”
With this information in mind one should be wary of taking generic drugs, especially generic drugs made outside the US. The next time I get a prescription filled and I have no choice but to accept a generic drug, I’m going to request the following information:  Is this drug manufactured by the same company as the drug you gave me the last time, and where, or who manufactures this drug. The manufacturers name is actually on your prescription bottle, usually in fine print, but that name doesn’t mean anything to most of us.
In case you use Walgreens and are considering switching to another corporate  pharmacy, you will find little difference. In doing some quick research on CVS Pharmacy, aka CVS Caremark Corporation, I found they are owned by investment firms and bankers such as JP Morgan Asset Management, T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. and Vanguard Group Inc.- a corporation that has over $1 trillion in assets.

Walgreens and their partners

A Chinatown Walgreens in Chicago, Illinois

Novartis is a Swedish company who manufactures generic drugs under the name of Sandoz. I would bet many of the generic drugs Walgreens fills come from that company.
Amgen – a pharmaceutical manufacturer, who Ralph Nadar accused of suppressing research data on Epogen, and anti-anemia drug used for kidney problems, cancer and HIV  is linked to heart failure. This drug goes by the generic name of Epoetin Alpha.
GlaxoSmithKline – the makers of Paxil, Flovent and Avandia, is currently lobbying lawmakers to extent their patents. They have given $7.3 million to GOP lawmakers and $3.1 million to Democrats.
Merck & Co. Inc. – are the makers of Vioxx, Zocor, Singulair and more. Vioxx has been linked to heart failure and Singluair has been linked to psychological disorders and suicide.
Pfizer – has been linked to illegal promotions in an effort to get doctors to prescribe their drugs. They were fined $2.3 billion this past year for their illegal activities. They are the maker of Bextra, Viagra, Lipitor, Zithromax, Zoloft and Xanax. They also own the drug companies Pharmacia/UpJohn and Wyeth.
Wyeth – the manufacturers of Effexor (named in many lawsuits) robitussin, Advil, Centrum, ChapStick, Preparation H, Premarin (also named in lawsuits) and Protonix.
Wellpoint – Is a health insurance company under investigation for revoking policies. They  revoked a woman with breast cancer because she had a pre-existing condition – acne. Wellpoint is the largest member of BlueCross BlueShield Association, well known for unethical practices such as revoking and purging, a form of price fixing.
United Health Group – Initially known as Cardinal Foods, merged with the Bailey Drug Company in 1979. They also own the Medicine Shoppe International.
Health Management Associates Inc. – They operate hospitals that were involved in a scandal concerning the sale of tainted blood to Canadian blood banks.
So, there you have it, your friendly neighborhood corporate drug store.

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