In recent weeks, we have been proud to feature excerpts from the article “Side-FX: The Drug Industry’s Influence on Health Care” by Keith Wassung. These articles focus on the impact prescription drug companies have on American health care and our society as a whole.  Last week’s article introduced the drug industry’s influence on health care.  This week’s segment looks at the question: Why are drugs a big part of our society?

Part 3: Why Have Drugs Become Such a Big Part of Our Society?

Money, pill vials, and pillsThe drug industry has been able to heavily influence our health care system. 50,000 pharmacies and 700,000 outlets for drugs add up to a 235 billion dollar a year industry, which has the highest profitability margin of any business in the United States.

In 2016, drug companies had the greatest return on revenues of any industry, reporting a profit of 18.5 cents for every $1 of sales, which was 8 times higher than the median for all Fortune 500 industries, easily surpassing the next most profitable industry, which was commercial banking with a 13.5% return on revenue.

The top 10 drug companies are reported to have profits averaging about 30 percent of revenues — a stunning margin. 1


In 2016 Drug companies spent over 60 billion dollars (more than 165 million a day) to persuade consumers to buy their products. One third of all television commercials are advertisements for drugs. The average 18 year has been exposed to 20,000 hours of pharmaceutical advertising.

Articles touting new wonder drugs are usually press kits sent out by drug companies. “Expert” physicians are normally paid company spokesmen.

Many newscast segments about prescription drugs are nothing more than canned promotions called “video news releases” put together by the drug companies for promotional purposes.

These segments rarely warn consumers that the drugs are potent agents that can cause severe, even life threatening reactions.


Doctor and drug rep shaking handsDrug companies spend an average of $10,000 per year on each and every medical doctor to persuade them to use their drugs. In addition to free samples, TIME magazine reported that:

-Wyeth-Ayerst Labs gives Medical Doctors 1000 points on American Airlines’ frequent flyer programs for each patient they put on the hypertension drug Inderal LA

-Roche pays Medical Doctors $1200 if they prescribe Roecephin for 20 patients. (Roche makes over $11,000 on 20 patients treated for only 10 days)

-Ciba-Geigy offers free Caribbean vacations to Medical Doctors in return for their sitting in on a few lectures about Estraderm, an estrogen patch.2


Doctors attending a presentation lecture given by a drug company

Drug companies also sponsor continuing education medical education courses which doctor must attend in order to keep their certification.

A recent Wake Forest study showed that medical doctors who attend these classes altered their prescription habits to the products sold by the sponsoring company.




Retro ad from a magazine - title states 'NOW, Scientific evidence on effects of smoking! ' and quotes Chesterfield (brand of cigarettes) is best for you! Medical researchers reported in the latest issue of The Lancet that nearly half of all drug advertisements published in medical journals cite studies or other evidence that does not support their promotional claims. As part of their research, co-author Dr. Salvador Peiro and colleagues with the Valencia School for Health Studies reviewed 102 promotional claims made in numerous medical journal advertisements. According to the study’s findings, references in advertisements did not support promotional claims 44 percent of the time. 14

“Only 6% of drug advertising material is supported by evidence.”