John Oliver Picks Apart Pharmaceutical Industry

By Victoria Kim 02/19/15

The comedian skewered the pharmaceutical industry on his popular show Last Week Tonight.

John Oliver
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Big Pharma is more concerned about profits than health, and doctors are buying into it, The Daily Show alum John Oliver illustrated on a recent segment of his HBO show, Last Week Tonight.

A ProPublica analysis released last fall revealed that drug companies pay doctors millions of dollars to promote not their most innovative or effective drugs, but some of their most unremarkable, of which a hefty portion are also available as generics, chemically identical copies that work just as well at a fraction of the price, according to Business Insider.

“Drug companies know that doctors hold all the real power in the prescription drug business,” Oliver said. “Which is why while they spend nearly $4 billion a year marketing directly to us, they spend an estimated $24 billion a year marketing directly to doctors.”

“In fact, one analysis claimed that in 2013, nine out of the 10 'Top 10' drug makers spent more on marketing than they did on research,” he added.

Oliver went on to illustrate the cozy relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical sales representatives, who court our most trusted health care providers with free lunches and free samples.

In one case, Swiss drug-maker Novartis was accused of paying kickbacks and lavishly spending on doctors, including taking some out to Hooters in exchange for prescribing its drugs.

This is all quite disturbing, Oliver noted, especially since Americans consume 80% of the world’s prescription painkillers. “Drugs aren’t like most other products, because you need someone’s permission to buy them,” he said.

Since many doctors have succumbed to Big Pharma’s offers of kickbacks and freebies, Oliver ended the segment by promoting a website, where people can look up their doctors and see if they’ve received perks from drug companies.

Watch the entire segment below:

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr