Every year, Americans fill billions of prescriptions, and hundreds of thousands of people have a medical device like an artificial hip or knee implanted into their body. Consumers assume that these drugs and devices have been thoroughly tested before being sold, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.
In 2012, Americans spent $325.8 billion on prescription medications – that’s $898 per person! Narcotic painkillers and drugs to treat high cholesterol and high blood pressure are the most commonly used prescription drugs. But all too often, serious side effects show up months or even years after a drug is introduced.
Medical devices include everything from surgical gloves and dental instruments to artificial knees and hips. The U.S. medical device industry has more than $100 billion in sales every year, which includes more than a million hip and knee replacement surgeries. Sometimes, medical devices are recalled – even after they have been implanted.
The powerful multi-billion dollar companies that make pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices are known collectively as Big Pharma. Companies like Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Merck and Pfizer wield enormous influence with governments to get drugs approved. They are also central to the annual budget of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is charged with getting drugs and devices to market. Stakes are high. So are profits. But who is watching out for the consumer?