Author: Justin Mckibben
Overprescribing of powerful prescription medications is just one part of how the current American opioid crisis came to be. While incredibly dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl came pouring in from across the globe, the pharmaceutical industry right in our own backyard thrived off of the devastation it was helping create. And as more people became aware of how prescription drugs were contributing to one of the worst drug epidemics in the country’s history, Big Pharma has come under fire for a number of things over the years. To name a few, we’ve seen arguments against drug companies for:
With recent reports, such as the explosive piece of 60 Minutes last month, we have also been exposed to the corruption, greed and a disregard for the well-being of the consumer.
The Big Pharma propaganda machine has paid out countless dollars for criminal and civil settlements over the years. Now even state officials are resorting to lawsuits against drug manufacturers in the fight against the ongoing opioid crisis.
So how did all this happen? How deep does the Big Pharma propaganda go? Some of this you might already know, but some of it might actually surprise you.
In case you didn’t know, the pharmaceuticals and health products industry spends the most money on lobbying politicians. And not even by a little.
Big Pharma and Health Products spent $3,714,580,815
That means that Big Pharma spends:
- $1,134,783,913 more than 2nd place- Insurance Companies
- $1,717,237,691 more than Oil/Gas Companies
The pharmaceutical industry, including dealers of medical products and nutritional/dietary supplements, is consistently a top contributor more to federal campaigns than any other industry.
In essence, drug companies spend big money on politics.
Whether we can always see it or not, this kind of financial incentive is more than likely playing into our current work on policy. For example, moves to pass legislation earlier this year were called into question by one source who pointed out 13 senators who were trying to push through a bill that would benefit the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies were receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from these companies between 2010 and 2016, including:
- Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch led the way with more than $471,000
- Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell with over $433,00 in donations
FUN FACT- Many lobbyists working on behalf of Big Pharma companies have previously held government jobs.
Truthfully, drug companies spend several years before a drug even makes it to the market on planning a strategy for selling it to you. Part of that strategy is proving drugs have value for treatment. However, according to some industry insiders, a lot of the time there is not enough comprehensive data to prove that value.
What you might also find surprising is that some of the earliest information drug companies have published about their products aren’t actually from credible sources. Ad agencies will hire writers to produce articles on behalf of the drug maker highlighting benefits of a drug. But the data is often cherry-picked and incomplete.
These articles are then sold to the public as ‘scientific’ because they are printed and published by some of the biggest scientific and medical publications, such as the New England Journal of Medicine. Those articles are then picked up by television and other news sources.
So essentially, drug companies often team up with marketing companies to fool not just doctors, but the public into thinking their product provides something that has yet to be proven. Big Pharma propaganda corrupts the research into their drugs and makes people believe their products are safer and more effective than they are.
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Big Pharma’s Billions in Ads
It isn’t just behind the scenes that Big Pharma propaganda takes place. Drug makers spend around $21 billion a year just to pedal products through advertising. One big problem for Americans is that many of their promotional techniques have been called out for being false advertising or misleading, to say the least.
- 2015, the industry spent a record-breaking $5.4 billion of direct-to-consumer ads alone.
- The same year, Americans spent over $450 billion on prescription drugs.
Some sources indicate there are about 80 drug advertisements per hour. While drug companies want people to think it is raising awareness, it is most definitely a commercial to sell you something.
Many pharma companies even have deep financial ties to medical communication companies (MCC) like WebMD or Medscape. This is just one more way they can influence physicians and consumers without people realizing the drug makers are funding the information.
Doctors Recruiting Doctors
But the drug makers don’t stop with recruiting politicians to support them. They also utilize doctors to help them push their products. The main target audience in most of the campaigns pushed by Big Pharma propaganda is not necessarily the consumer as much as it is the person who writes the prescriptions.
Drug companies giving kickbacks to doctors is nothing new.
So drugmakers create an advisory board, where some of the most successful and well-respected doctors are put on the payroll with huge payoffs to help drug companies design a marketing campaign that will help promote the drugs to other doctors. Once these doctors have helped highlight the best ways to convince other physicians these drugs work, they themselves validate the drug in a way that encourages other doctors to prescribe the drug.
Drugs to Treat Drugs
A while back there was an ad that ran during the Superbowl that caught the attention of a lot of people. It was an ad selling an anti-constipation drug for those so dependent on prescription opioids that they were suffering from constipation as a side effect.
This is another huge problem with how drugs are marketed to us… in tandem.
Instead of suggesting an alternative treatment, drug companies want to give you more drugs to combat the effects of other drugs. Doctors will often prescribe a second medication for no other purpose than to treat the effects of the first medication. Big Pharma propaganda can literally sell you the illness and the medicine in the same marketing campaign. A 2012 study published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine describes this as “prescribing cascade”.The study indicates that the practice of using drugs to treat problems with other drugs is a key component to the heavy reliance on pharmaceuticals in healthcare.
Another devastating way this has taken place is when doctors prescribe powerfully and potentially habit-forming narcotic medications to combat illicit drug use and substance use disorder. Heroin addicts are being treated with other strong narcotics, which can actually have their own withdrawal symptoms and side effects. They even highjacked the opioid overdose antidote and several makers gouged the prices to offensive new heights during the rise of the opioid epidemic.
Drug Companies Abuse of Americans
Now let us be fair; modern medicine does provide us with some life-saving resources that can be paramount to the health and wellness of our population. Thanks to great strides in medicine doctors are able to treat some conditions or illnesses that were once thought of as a death sentence. Today, we have some of the greatest opportunities to receive quality care with innovative and well-researched treatments.
However, the fact remains that drug companies have been caught red-handed more than a few times misrepresenting their products, hiding the side-effects, falsely advertising their benefits and even recently some huge names in pharmaceuticals have been accused of bribery and racketeering to sell potent and extremely dangerous drugs.
So, what can be done?
- We can take a closer look at how Big Pharma propaganda influences or elected representatives and their decisions on policy.
- We can pay attention to how the information provided by pharmaceutical companies or marketers is not always as reliable as it may seem.
- Look into excessive advertising for potent drugs
- Do more to combat drug makers from paying doctors to promote their drugs to other doctors.
- Pursue other forms of treatment that don’t require expensive and powerful drugs.
When it comes to drug abuse, maybe we shouldn’t let the drug companies continue to make massive profits from a problem they have a large hand in creating. There needs to be more commitment to finding alternative treatments that don’t rely so heavily on drugs in order to help people get healthy.
Holistic drug addiction treatment is a unique and effective way of helping people struggling with substance use disorder. The fact that powerful drugs help cause addiction, let us not forget the value of offering healing options that don’t require more drugs. Building a strong foundation with personalized therapy and innovative treatment opportunities helps thousands of people all over the nation overcome addiction. Palm Partners Recovery Center is committed to providing quality care for those dealing with drug abuse, whether it is illicit drugs or prescription drug dependence. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
It seems in society today cats in costumes and selfies layered in filters and hash-tags are not the only thing getting attention all over Instagram. Apparently thousands of accounts, perhaps even more to date, are currently being used as a powerful platforms for digital drug dealers to sell numerous drugs including marijuana, prescription pills, ecstasy, and other illicit narcotics via the Internet. Apparently pay-pal is acceptable currency now in the drug market. It operates like the notorious Silk Road, which was a marketplace for anonymous, and often illicit, trading that had been under fire for some time. The exception being that it’s a thousand times more user-friendly, and it hasn’t been shut down.
With posts of photos and videos being uploaded at the speed of social media, anyone with a smartphone can easily browse, buy, and sell drugs with almost absolute impunity and security. Instagram posts are not regularly restricted or censored. No accounts postings are ever blurred, age-gated, or otherwise sequestered from Instagram’s growing membership of over 200 million regular users. Despite the fact that this issue is increasingly obvious and only getting worse, the owner of Instagram- Facebook- has also never publicly acknowledged this ongoing criminal activity.
Let’s be practical about this. Social networks such as Instagram or Facebook operate with around 1.2 billion people actively using it at least once a month. With a community this massive there is bound to accumulate a variety of social and networking activity, legal or not, and many major corporations take full advantage of this kind of marketing strategy. Earlier this year, it was discovered that there were widespread gun-sales activity on Facebook, some of it apparently in violation of local and federal laws. Facebook eventually responded by clarifying its policies, and posts were flagged accordingly. Yet so far, Instagram has not faced a similar sanction with its drug dealing population.
The steep sum of the posts involved indicates a market that’s at least large and organized enough to simulate any other evolving function on the social network and use it to an advantage. Many of the accounts in question are public and easily searchable through Instagram, so followers have no trouble finding the hash-tag (#) they need for whatever drugs they want. Some have hundreds or thousands of ‘likes’ and followers, so their clientele is hard to even begin to estimate.
How would one find a substance on this nation-wide cyber selection? It is so easy it’s scary! All it takes is a hash-tag (#) to narrow down your options. Typing in “#xanax” for example, will teleport a user to a list of hash-tags spanning more than 100,000 images specifically for this one drug, and from there the work is cut out for you. Many of these images are considered “legitimate” as they only portray USING drugs, because that’s just fine to plaster all over the internet, right? However upon closer inspection you will find posts with drugs for sale hidden in the hash-tags. With a quick untraceable money transfer or Bitcoin transaction buyers can have a shipment delivered to their doorstep in days. The U.S. Post Office or other delivery services are now undercover couriers for this seemingly limitless enterprise.
In Instagram’s defense, the actual transactions don’t actually happen over Instagram. The app is simply being exploited as a billboard for transactions that are completed elsewhere, via Bitcoin in many cases. With this kind of anonymity drug dealers are able to expand their influx of customers through one of the most widely used apps in the world. With minimal investment, cautious dealers can conduct their business in broad daylight, and even broadcast it!
Most dealers typically keep their security as best they can by listing their burner cell phone numbers or burner emails, which basically means that if the heat is put on, they can dump the phone or the email with no strings attached and as little bread-crumbs left behind to trace, if any. Many use the popular messaging app Kik, which offers relatively anonymous messaging without the hassle of phone numbers or any other self-incriminating information.
Like any clever marketing team, these dealers using Instagram accounts employ hash-tags that typically do not even relate to their specific business just to diversify their audience. Some use seemingly innocent, popular and vague referencing hashtags like #instagood, or #ifollowback. Others cast an even larger net with common pop-culture references like #rihanna to draw as many wondering eyes to their inventory as possible.
The true scale of the epidemic cannot be properly measured without hard numbers from Instagram itself. Even though many images may have multiple hash-tags, it’s apparent that a large number of photos are involved. Brand-name hash-tags, the kind any teenager might know, are particularly active and accessible on Instagram. For example the number of posts tagged with #xanax grows at a rate of over 100 photos per day, and according to further investigation there are more unique groupings like #overnightdelivery and #ohiocartel that can grow by just a few posts a day. Either way they offer easier access to those with a clear intent to sell to or scam Instagram’s millions of users.
There are plenty of scammers out there as well, which also adds an element of danger when dealing with people who intend simply to rob customers. The drugs for sale on Instagram are generally name-brands not hard to recognize:
- Liquid promethazine-codeine cough syrup
Even drug-addiction management drugs often used for withdrawal treatments are being taken advantage of like:
MDMA, LSD, and ketamine are also easy to find. However most harder narcotics like PCP, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin have so far been very rare on Instagram.
When inquiries were made to Facebook about the questionable conduct and how they are handling this growing issue, the response wasn’t exactly ideal. The comment sent back to Venturebeat.com authors original investigating was:
“If you are reported for sharing prohibited or illegal content, including photographs or videos of extreme violence or gore, your account may be disabled and we will take appropriate action, which may include reporting you to the authorities. Additionally, it is neither possible nor permitted to complete transactions involving regulated goods on our platform. If your photos or videos are promoting the sale of regulated goods or services, including firearms, alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, or adult products, we expect you to make sure you’re following the law and to encourage others to do the same.“
In many opinions this defense is almost a blatant relinquishment of responsibility. There’s little doubt that Instagram has its eye on mobile shopping, so if Instagram eventually intends to legitimize its own marketplace there is a lot more work to be done in developing regulations.
On the other end Instagram has also increasingly appeared in headlines credited to contributions in law enforcement operations to combat illegal activity as well. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has already used Instagram to bring down international drug cartel members on many occasions, and the NYPD used the platform to conduct the biggest gun bust in their department’s history. Even though it has done some measure of good, the language contained in Instagram’s Community Guidelines doesn’t support the shadowy short-comings in the technology.
Instagram’s only line of defense thus far is simply to be reactive to the problem when it is isolated. Instagram has repeatedly blocked specific hash-tags that cause noticeable problems. Media attention also seems to trigger bans for specific hashtags being exploited. For example, the “#XanaxForSale” hash-tag was blocked with 24 hours of gaining media attention. Hash-tags relating to the sale of prescription cough syrup were similarly blocked after receiving media attention last year.
With all eyes on a thriving social media platform designed to visualize life at its fullest, how is it that this growing drug advertisement on Instagram can be stopped. With #NoFilters in place dependable enough to restrict posts as an effective #ShowStopper, can Instagram turn this around and get some of that #RecoveryLife? Hopefully this is addressed before too much damage is done. Not too many people ‘like’ the #AddictLife. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.