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Ethical Issues Related to Inflated Drug Prices

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BACKROUND The pharmaceutical industry's claim that high and increasing drug prices are needed to sustain research and development is a lie to the American public. Drug companies are spending more than twice as much on marketing, advertising, and administration than they do on research and development; that drug company profits, which are higher than all other industries, exceed research and development expenditures; and that drug companies provide lavish compensation packages for their top executives. Recent prices rose more than twice the rate of inflation last year and among the top nine pharmaceutical companies (Merck, Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pharmacia, Abbott Laboratories, American Home Products, Eli Lilly, Schering-Plough, and Allergan), all but one (Eli Lilly) spent more than twice as much on marketing, advertising, and administration than they did on research and development, and Lilly spent more than one and one-half times as much. Six out of the nine companies made more money in net profits than they spent on research and development last year. The executive with the highest compensation package in the year 2004, exclusive of unexercised stock options, was William C. Steere, Jr., Pfizer's Chairman, who made $40.2 million. The executive with the highest amount of unexercised stock options was C.A. Heimbold, Jr., Bristol-Myers Squibb's Chairman and CEO, who held $227.9 million in unexercised stock options. "Pharmaceutical companies charging skyrocketing drug prices like to sugar coat the pain by saying those prices are needed for research and development," said Ron Pollack, Families USA's executive director. "The truth is high prices are much more associated with record-breaking profits and enormous compensation for top drug company executives." Pollack added, "Drug companies' commitments to research and development are dwarfed by those companies' expenditures for marketing, advertising, and administration." In 2005, the pharmaceutical industry was, once again, the most profitable U.S. industry, and profit margins in the industry were nearly four times the average of Fortune 500 companies. Three companies (Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Abbott Laboratories) received twice as much in net profits than they spent on research and development. Three other companies (Eli Lilly, Schering-Plough, and Allergan) received more money in net profits than they spent on research and development. "The pharmaceutical industry's repetitious cry that research and development would be curtailed if drug prices are moderated is extraordinarily misleading," said Pollack. "If meaningful steps are taken to ameliorate fast-growing drug prices, it is corporate profits, expenditures on marketing, and high executive compensation that are more likely to be affected, not research and development.
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