Originally published September 26 2014
Alzheimer's drug maker trying to force patients to switch to maintain their drug monopoly, antitrust suit claims
by L.J. Devon, Staff Writer
(NaturalNews) Drug companies are always coming up with new ways to keep people taking their product. By bribing hospitals and doctors, drug company executives can push their rubberstamped snake oil into the medical system, where's its suddenly considered medicine. (British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline was recently convicted of bribing hospitals and doctors in China in exchange for promotion of their products. After a one-year investigation, China slapped them with a nearly half-billion-dollar fine.)
Still, for the most part, it's easy to keep the status quo humming along; bribed and bought-off medical professionals play the game often, prescribing drug company pills at a company's beck and call. There's a lot of pushing and shoving going on, as drug companies vie for position and control over the marketplace of disease management.
Lawsuit exposes drug company's controlling and monopolistic intentionsA new antitrust lawsuit, filed by New York State's attorney general, claims that a pharmaceutical company has been forcing patients with Alzheimer's disease to take a newer version of their drug, while effectively stifling competition from low-priced, generic versions of the medication. The company in question is Forest Laboratories, which is now owned by Actavis. In February, the company announced that it would stop selling the tablet drug Namenda, forcing Alzheimer's patients to switch to a new, extended-release version of the drug, Namenda XR. By forcing the switch, Actavis avoids competition from generic brands that would have begun next July when the patent for their first drug ends. Their new drug has a much longer patent life, so generic brands would not be able to copy it for some time.
The switch allows Actavis to maintain a monopoly on the drug, even after patent expiration. According to the lawsuit, about 40 percent of users have been forced to switch to the new form thus far. This shows how medicine today isn't based on helping people get well but more so on controlling the marketplace.
"A drug company manipulating vulnerable patients and forcing physicians to alter treatment plans unnecessarily, simply to protect corporate profits, is unethical and illegal," the attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, said in a statement.
'Product hopping' technique used to stifle competition in medicineBy forcing the switch, Actavis doesn't have to worry about patients switching to generic versions of the drug, since their drug can now can be given once a day, delivering "'significant advantages' for patients and their caregivers," making it less likely that they'll switch to the generic form when it's available. This is just one way brand-name drug makers sidestep generic competition. In the industry, it's called "product hopping." By changing the dosage of their brand-name drug, Actavis keeps patients from being able to switch to a generic version, since pharmacists are not allowed to substitute generic forms of the prescription if the dosage is different.
In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission spoke out about how brand-name drug companies game the system by making "modest nontherapeutic changes to [their] product" which "effectively prevent generic competition, not because the reformulated product is preferred by consumers, but simply because it is different."
Still, courts are hesitant to define product hopping, not wanting to interfere with a company's ability to introduce new products.
Yet, Actavis is doing more than introducing a new product. They are manipulating the drug marketplace to move in their favor. They have even taken steps to move their old tablets off the list of reimbursable drugs on Medicare Part D plans. This would force even more Alzheimer patients to switch to their new version of the drug. With 4.4 million prescriptions already written in 2014 for both the new and older versions of their Namenda drug, Actavis is setting up a drug monopoly transition, and they are using Alzheimer patients as the pawns.
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