Wyeth v Levine Ruling Signals The Tide is Turning Against Big Pharma

For nearly three decades, it’s seemed like everything — at least when it comes to government decision-making — has gone Big Pharma’s way.

For example:

  • The U.S. government permitted Big Pharma to begin advertising directly to consumers, despite the fact that this practice is prohibited worldwide (except in New Zealand). The billions of dollars spent on advertising has led to a dramatic increase in prescription drug consumption — including by teens who steal drugs like Viagra out of the family medicine cabinet after hearing how cool they are, ad nauseum, in TV ads.
  • The government slashed the FDA’s staff by a third during the Bush administration (after significant cuts in the Reagan administration) and allowed Big Pharma lobbyists to wield enormous influence over FDA decisions — essentially permitting the fox to guard the henhouse in an area where people’s lives are at stake.
  • The government blocked legislation passed by Congress permitting Americans to purchase drugs from Canadian pharmacies. Yes, the legislation had an 80 percent public approval rating and was passed by both the House and the Senate, but still never became law because of Big Pharma’s ability to grease the right palms.

I could go on and on — but this is starting to make me sick.

Let’s go to the good news. Change is here. Let me repeat that: Change is here.

After being a little skeptical about the prospects of real change, I’m really starting to believe it can happen. In fact, it is happening.

First, President Obama followed through on his promise and advocated the legalization of consumer drug purchases from Canadian pharmacies in his budget.

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court — generally considered one of the most conservative courts since Dred Scott — has swatted down Big Pharma, too, in its Wyeth v. Levine ruling. According to news reports:

The Supreme Court forcefully rejected calls Wednesday for limiting consumer lawsuits against drug makers, upholding a $6.7 million jury award to a musician who lost her arm to gangrene following an injection.

The decision is the second this term to reject business groups’ arguments that federal regulation effectively pre-empts consumer complaints under state law…

The Bush administration and business groups aggressively pushed limits on lawsuits through the doctrine of pre-emption — asserting the primacy of federal regulation over rules that might differ from state to state.

I had really believed that the court would rule against musician Diana Levine — and in doing so, against all U.S. drug consumers. I was wrong.

The tide is turning. The winds have changed. Get ready, Big Pharma — it’s going to be a bumpy night.

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