Pigs, MRSA and Zyvox: Big Pharma’s got you coming and going

It hadn’t really occurred to me, until I read a great rant by Jen Huntley in the Reno News & Review the other day, just how completely the web of Big Pharma envelops our lives.

In other words, Big Pharma doesn’t just provide us drugs when we get sick. Big Pharma also helps us get sick in the first place. It’s the perfect racket: they’ve got us coming and going.

As Jen writes:

While those of us with adequate or good health insurance looked the other way, health care became a giant profit-making machine for insurance companies and hospitals, but the pharmaceutical industry really takes the cake.

Not only have they bought the government with profits built on taxpayer subsidies, but other reports also reveal the enormous role of drug companies on our food supply. Seventy percent of all antibiotics are fed to livestock to keep them alive long enough to reach market weight in crammed feeding lots. As Prevention magazine reported last month, the superbug MRSA a deadly, drug-resistant form of staph is now present in our food supply.

Great. Taxpayer-subsidized drugs in our food make us sick we go to the hospital and get fed more drugs. With its vast and powerful lobbying system, the pharmaceutical industry writes both agricultural and medical policy to feed its own bottom line. [emphasis added]

Just how serious is the MRSA threat created by the overuse of antibiotics in pigs and other livestock? Chances are, we won’t find out until it’s too late. Here’s an excerpt from an MSNBC.com report:

Until recently, the CDC has acknowledged the presence of MRSA in meat but downplayed the danger … One reason the CDC and the National Pork Board must guess about transmission rates and why we don’t know exactly how many MRSA-related infections occur is that the federal government doesn’t collect data on MRSA outbreaks, says Karen Steuer, director of government operations for the Pew Environment Group. According to the US Government Accountability Office, there’s no testing for MRSA on farms. And the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System tests just 400 retail cuts of meat each month for four drug-resistant bacteria which don’t include MRSA.

And yet, according to Food Poison Journal, recently published research shows MRSA was present in nearly half of pigs in a study of U.S. pig farms.

Fortunately, Congress finally appears to be taking action against the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals. The FDA is recommending the following actions, which have been endorsed by the AMA (but opposed by the National Pork Producers Council, among others) —

  • Phasing out and banning the use of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic (i.e. growth promoting) use in food animals.
  • Immediately banning any new approvals of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic uses in food animals and retroactively investigating antimicrobials previously approved.
  • Strengthening recommendations in FDA Guidance #152 which requires the FDA determine that the drug is safe and effective for its intended use in the animal prior to approving an antimicrobial for a new animal drug application.
  • Facilitating the reduction in industrial farm animal production use of antibiotics and educating producers on how to raise food animals without using non-therapeutic antibiotics.

We’ll see if this recommendation goes through … or if it dies on the vine like Canadian drug reimportation and other measures popular with the public, but unpopular with powerful vested interests.

Think about what will happen if MRSA continues to spread from hospitals — where it currently is at dangerous levels — into the general population. It will actually solve some big problems for Big Pharma.

As we’ve reported here before, a number of supermarket chains and other retailers are now giving away common antibiotics for free. The reason is that patents on these drugs have long since expired, so the prices for these drugs are very low. It’s worth it to the retailers to give them away in order to get you into their stores.

I have a friend who recently acquired an infection caused by MRSA, which as we know is not treatable by those “free antibiotics.”

He had to purchase a special antibiotic called Zyvox (linezolid) to treat it. The price for Zyvox at his corner drug store was $1,400. Even after insurance, he still had to pay $400 — for a 10-day supply.

If you’re Big Pharma, that sure beats free, doesn’t it?

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