The legalized immorality of Big Pharma


Al Capone, the infamous mob boss and bootlegger in Chicagoland during the 1920s, always maintained that he was just a businessman, saying the only difference between him and others was that the law criminalized his business, while legalizing the criminality of socalled “legitimate” businessmen.

Of course, big business bosses today would find their comparison to mob bosses distasteful — yet it’s not that far from a true fit for many of their corporate “enterprises.” After all, we regularly see shameless racketeering schemes from the establishment peers of Wall Street, Big Oil, Big Food, etc.

Then there are the wiseguys of Big Pharma, whose industry-wide business model is based on legalized price gouging. On Feb. 10, for example, Valeant Pharmaceuticals stunned heart patients, doctors and hospitals by suddenly jacking up the price of two essential lifesaving heart drugs. By a lot — Valeant tripled the price of a single vial of Nitropress, from $260 to more than $800, while sextupling the price of Isuprel from $215 a vial to nearly $1,400!

Had the drug maker improved the medicines? No, they were exactly the same formulations as before. The only thing that changed was ownership — Valeant had bought the rights to the medications from another company on Feb. 10. Then, on that very day, it arbitrarily used its monopoly control to exact a rip-off price from those who have no choice but to pay it. A spokeswoman for Valeant was unrepentant: “Our duty is to our shareholders and to maximize the value” of their investments, she declared.

By “duty,” the lady from Valeant didn’t mean a moral duty, but a “duty” manufactured by corporate lawyers and lobbyists to extract immoral profits from vulnerable people. Al Capone would smile approvingly at that rationalization.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.