corporate greed - invisibly allergic blog - big pharma

Big Pharma Companies In The USA Profit Off Of Food Allergies

Big Pharma Corruption & Greed

While you may not think of it immediately, there’s a connection between food allergies and big pharma. Really anyone reliant on a medication is caught in a complicated web that is big pharma. Speaking from my own experience, I know first-hand that those with life-threatening food allergies are reliant on having access to the life-saving medication epinephrine.

Growing up with a life-threatening peanut allergy, I used to often get upset, offended, and flustered when I would see people eating peanuts in public spaces, or would see restaurants using peanuts on their menu. It still can be scary and I have to take appropriate precautions, and my friends and family know to not have peanuts around me, however, I’m intentionally shifting my feelings off random bystanders and chefs, and putting my energy towards creating positive changes for those living with food allergies by focusing on corporations and policy. Ultimately, it’s the people behind these big pharma corporations that are prioritizing making the lives of food allergic individuals much riskier and deadly because their focused on their own profit margin. Unfortunately, healthcare in the U.S. is a business, and so is the pharmaceutical industry. It’s become clear that there are many corrupt and greedy pharmaceutical companies out there getting away with literal murder, and putting the lives of people below their corporate profits. It’s time for us to collect together and change this, and begin putting people, humanity, and ethics over profits.

Invisibly Allergic’s Top 3 Food Allergy Priorities

Big Pharma Price Gouging Needs To End

  • Spreading awareness around greedy big pharma companies like Mylan (epi-pen) and kaléo Cares (Auvi-Q) is vital, people need to know pharmaceutical companies are making it harder for people to get life-saving drugs, and these large pharmaceutical corporations are profiting greatly by the growing number of food allergies and illnesses occurring globally. Big pharma is ripping off America, as you can read more about here in this Citizen article from 2021. In 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act was announced to hopefully lower insulin costs, and lower drug prices of many drugs in the U.S., but there are loopholes pharmaceutical companies can exploit.

Universal Healthcare

  • Volunteering my time with organizations working towards universal healthcare in the U.S., because I believe healthcare is a human right. I live in Kentucky so I specifically support KYHealthcare – Kentuckians for Single Payer Health Care & also Medicare For All. Each time epinephrine is used, a hospital visit is necessary to monitor oxygen levels and a possible secondary reaction. People in the U.S. shouldn’t be having to decide not to seek medical care due to financial reasons. I strongly believe it’s morally wrong that people are going bankrupt and struggling to pay for ER visits, doctors visits, cancer treatments, etc. in the only industrialized nation without universal health insurance.

Transparent Food Labeling Laws

  • The U.S. is decades behind the E.U. in terms of food allergy laws around transparency and labeling and this is a problem because it impacts overall quality of life, not to mention, people are dying due to a lack of food allergen transparency and are more reliant than they need to be on life-saving medications. My priority with Invisibly Allergic is to create a collective interest to help pass a bill to get the FDA to update our food labeling laws to protect consumers, labeling for not suitable for/may contain so the public knows what allergens are in facilities and can be empowered to make educated decisions around what they’re ingesting. I do not have a policy background, but am working with FARE on how this would look in the U.S. right this moment.

Big Pharma’s Strategy Is To Monopolize

Big Pharma profits off of more people buying their overpriced drugs and paying the expensive price-tags yearly for their prescriptions. Our collective need for their medicine is their literal lifeblood, and not only are they not interested in making it affordable, they aren’t acting ethically, they’re acting as a business with their profits as the driver. They purposefully monopolize the market and purchase drugs and smaller companies, and then raise the prices once there’s no competition, so there’s no other option for people to purchase besides their own. It would be great to see these corporations dedicating part of their profits to make an impact on those living with diseases their drugs treat, which is creating their record profits.

How Much Does An Epi-Pen Cost?

In 2008 the average price for a pack of two was $100 per pack. Now in 2022, the average price of a brand-name epi-pen, usually the only type that have an easy-to-use method, is almost $700. A MultiBriefs article points out that in 2007 the pharmaceutical company Mylan purchased the rights to the patented epi-pen delivery, and ever since, the price has increase significantly, more than 400% in the past 10 years, actually. This same epi-pen article lists the cost of different epi-pens and ways to save for each, which was interesting to see laid out for consumers! They go on to state that brand name epi-pens can cost up to $733, and the epi-pen generic equivalent can cost up to $658.

How is it that an epi-pen alterative, a “low cost” epi-pen option, that isn’t designed to be easy-to-use and is just a large needle with adrenaline in it, can cost this much? It’s absurd and sickening. Keep in mind, all epi-pens expire (“expire” according to the company) after 1-year, further ripping off those who need this life-saving drug.

Epi-Pen Price By Country

Want to know the actual cost of epi-pen in different countries? I did! This 2016 epi-pen price by country graphic is the perfect example showcasing how the cost of epinephrine in the U.S. was at least 9x as high in the U.S. compared to other countries.

epipen price big pharma_public citizen graphic

Neffy Epi-Pen Alternative

There is an exciting new development of a life-saving nasal spray epinephrine, Neffy, to treat deadly allergic reactions. I love seeing this type of innovation, a needle alternative, and hope it is affordable to those who require it once it is approved by the FDA. According to this October 2022 article, the FDA has accepted Neffy’s application for anaphylaxis reactions and has assigned a Prescription Drug User Fee Act date for sometime in the middle of 2023. We’ll see what the cost is once the drug is released.

Pharmaceutical Price Gouging 

The top two brands of epinephrine are Auvi-Q and Epi-Pen, and just putting it out there, my personal preference is Auvi-Q since I find they’re easier to carry and I also like that there’s a voice-activated option that talks the person administering it through the process. While I am very thankful that epinephrine exists in a way where it’s quick, intuitive, and easy to use, in 2019 alone, Mylan’s global epi-pen sales reached $2,247.87 million. Sadly, I’m not seeing any meaningful changes happening to support the food allergy community they’re exploiting.

Much like life-saving insulin, which became available in 1923, the life-saving drug epinephrine has been used medically since 1905. Neither of these life-savings drugs are new, yet, these companies have decided to force consumers whose lives depend on them to pay a hefty price or go without it and risk death. 

Neither of these life-savings drugs are new, yet, these companies have decided to force consumers whose lives depend on them to pay a hefty price or go without it and risk death. 

U.S. Healthcare Is A Business, A Big Business 

Thanks to not having universal healthcare in the United States, the only industrialized nation without universal health insurance, people are forced daily to go without their life-saving medications because it’s too expensive. It’s heartbreaking to think about people losing their lives, and the friends and families of these individuals, when it could have all potentially been prevented by a readily available medication that we have in the U.S. right this moment. It’s awful that the only thing standing in the way is corporate greed and evil ethics.

I want to see more accountability in the pharmaceutical space, as I’m sure many do. People need to know the truth about the pharmaceutical industry and talk about how messed up it is, and how it doesn’t serve people well. Ultimately, I believe there needs to be a separation between the life-saving drugs people need and rely on, and the businesses making a profit. I don’t see how food allergic individuals needs, or anybody’s needs, will ever be put first if they’re in the hands of the business profiting off of people being sick to begin with. It wouldn’t make business sense for them to, and that’s why healthcare shouldn’t be a business. The U.S. has so much potential to do good for its citizens, yet, look at what where we’re at.

The U.S. Accounts For Half Of Drug Maker Profits Globally

Let me write that again: The U.S. U.S. accounts for half of drug maker profits globally. They don’t make up half of the drug corporations, no, they just make half the amount of all global sales on drugs and medications by exploiting, bankrupting, and murdering U.S. citizens each year, representing the biggest market of pharmaceutical products in the world. A PharmaApproach article with 15 astonishing facts about big pharma, often quoting Statista data, states that the United States in 2018 alone generated about $484.8 billion which represented 40.4% of the $1.2 trillion generated worldwide. 

The U.S. pharmaceutical industry is the largest in the world in the areas of: drug development and production, advertising, global image, and revenue generation. When reading the top 10 companies in the U.S. below, pay attention to the literal billions they’re bringing in yearly in pharmaceutical industry profits. I had no idea that this industry spends so much on advertising their products, these companies operate the same way as a business even though people’s lives are on the line. 

The below annual revenue profits prove that big pharma monopolies need to be doing more to support individuals in the U.S. and you can get an idea of why universal healthcare isn’t something these companies would be interested in for their business profits, however, ethically-speaking, healthcare and getting people medications should not be a business. 

Top 10 Big Pharma Companies In The USA

  1. Johnson & Johnson

    Operating in over 60 countries, with more than 132,000 employees as of 2020, Johnson & Johnson is the top biotech company in the world. In 2020 alone, in it’s first, second and third quarter, they generated upwards of $60 billion in revenue, some sources claim it was actually $82 billion. If you pay attention to cruelty-free brands that do not test on animals, you’ll know that Johnson & Johnson is not cruelty-free.

  2. Pfizer Inc.

    If you hadn’t heard of Pfizer pre-COVID, you likely have now as it manufactured one of the COVID-19 vaccines. In 2019 alone, Pfizer brought in over $51 billion in revenue. In November of 2020 Pfizer Inc. purchased Mylan, the maker of epi-pen.  

  3. Merck & Co.

    This pharmaceutical company brought in over $46 billion in revenue in 2019.

  4. AbbVie Inc.

    This pharmaceutical company is a spin-off of Abbott Laboratories and brought in over $33 billion in revenue in 2019.

  5. Bristol Myers Squibb

    This pharmaceutical company brought in over $26 billion in revenue in 2019, and in Fall of 2020 was at $31 billion.

  6. Abbot Laboratories

    Like I mentioned above, AbbVie Inc. (#4 on the list) is a spin-off of Abbot Laboratories. Abbot Labs brought in $31.9 billion in 2019, and had around 107,000 employees.

  7. Amgen

    Formerly Applied Molecular Genetics Inc, Amgen generated over $23 billion in revenue in 2019. 

  8. Gilead Sciences

    Gilead Sciences operates in North America, Europe, and Australia. They generated over $22 billion in revenue in 2019 with over 11,000 employees.

  9. Eli Lilly and Company

    Usually referred to as Lilly, this is currently the largest manufacturer of psychiatric medication such as Prozac, Dolophine, Cymbalta, and Zyprexa and these are sold in over 125 countries. In 2019 alone, Lilly generated over $22 billion. 

  10. Biogen

    Lastly, in spot #10, don’t feel too bad for Biogen because in 2019 alone they generated over $14 billion in revenue, securing their top 10 spot of pharmaceutical companies in the United States. 

I’m no expert in this information, I only have found this by looking it up online from authoritative sites and double checking the statistics and data, but I began to wonder about the pharmaceutical industry profit margins and had trouble finding specifics around those as I’m sure it’s something these businesses want to keep secret from the public. However, I learned that big pharma receives government-funded research and major tax benefits to stay profitable, in addition to their price gouging tactics.

What Is The Role & Purpose Of Big Pharma?

Every article I read on why pharmaceutical companies are important seemed like complete B.S. to me. I poked holes in what I was reading, and call bullsh*t on every mission statement I read. I’m not trying to say I don’t take medication or believe medicine is valuable, because I absolutely do, but what current pharmaceutical companies are doing isn’t aligning with what I’m reading their purpose is.

What’s The Purpose Of Pharmaceuticals?

To Johnson & Johnson’s mission statement, their pharmaceutical company exists to “help people be healthier by supporting better access and care in more places around the world”. That’s just one line of their statement that, frankly, is all over the place, and even that one line doesn’t doesn’t sound like what their doing, they’re helping a select few people be healthier and are not supporting better access to people in the U.S. at least to their products. 

Most of the revenue and profits going to pharmaceutical companies is coming directly from monopolizing and steadily increasing drug prices that are on the market, considering it’s uniqueness and effectiveness. I want to point out the hypocrisy that comes from the purpose of improving the lives of those who need it and then that they make money off raising the price. 

They’re Getting Away With Murder

Right now, these massive pharmaceutical companies are getting away with literal mass murder of their target audience. According to the Harvard Business Review, large pharmaceutical companies aren’t as important to real drug innovations occurring in the U.S. as it seems. They state that smart policy changes could increase life-changing medical breakthroughs in biomedicine by increasing funding to the National Institute of Health (NIH). This would cut the cost and accelerating the speed of clinical trials, reforming patient law to stop innovative-blocking by big pharma, which occurs often, to prevent new drugs from entering the market and competing. Lastly, they point out that big pharma spends its revenues on many less productive activities compared to activities like clinical trials and regulatory approvals, such as lobbying and making political contributions (more than $800 million from 2016-2020), and marketing/advertising which they spend tens of billions of dollars on annually.


Why I Want Universal Healthcare In the U.S.

In addition to a single-payer Medicare For All (universal healthcare – no networks, no premiums, no deductibles, no copays, no surprise bills) we need a new strategy in the United States for drug innovation that limits the role of big pharma. One place to start could be:

  • Reinvesting the hundreds of billions they receive towards preventing and curing diseases, in addition to new drug innovation outside of monopolies that are producing the drugs.
  • Creating ways to make clinical trials cheaper and faster, yet just as effective.
  • The reforming of patent laws to reduce frivolous use of patents by big pharma which are capping and stalling life-saving innovation.
    • For example, the Harvard article points out that AbbVie, marketing Humira, has filed 257 related patents which causes a bottleneck of legal sums and can take years to examine, keeping big pharma in monopolies and maintaining their pricing power for decades than the 17 years contemplated under our current laws.
  • Recognizing and process that protecting the revenue of big pharma is not benefitting humanity, and to focus on ethics of people over the importance of corporations.

Big Pharma & Epi-Pen FAQs

What pharmaceutical company makes EpiPen?

Mylan does. Mylan is owned by Pfizer Inc., the second largest pharmaceutical company in the United States. Mylan has been the center of many price-gouging class suits around epi-pens, a treatment for life-threatening allergic reactions, over recent years. 

Who jacked up the price of EpiPen?

Epi-Pen costs in the U.S. have been on the rise since 2004 up to present day 2022. Court documents show that Heather Bresch, the former Mylan CEO, played a central role in the EpiPen pricing scandal. Her father, Joe Manchin, U.S. Senator of West Virginia, benefitted greatly from this price-gouging. 

What is the EpiPen scandal?

After huge Epi-Pen price hikes happened in 2016 to the life-saving drug, epinephrine, it has been found that there were schemes happening internally within Mylan. These schemes ranged from interfering with the generic auto-injectors by bribing pharmacy benefit managers with rebates and more, to ensure they could raise the price of the life-saving drug while still keeping a monopoly over the market. This led to the Epi-Pen lawsuit and “scandal” which reached a $64 million settlement, which as you can read from this article, is not even close to hat they make in one year of revenue.

Does Pfizer own EpiPen?

Yes. Mylan owns the rights to the Epi-Pen brand, but the devices are manufactured by Pfizer Inc. 

Why are EpiPens so expensive?

The epi-pen device has been around since 1977, and was purchased by Mylan in 2007. Originally, the devices were about $57 U.S. dollars each, then with the rise of food allergies and the need for this life-saving drug, Mylan began raising the price because they have a monopoly over the market.

Are EpiPens available without a prescription?

Not in the United States. In the U.S. you cannot buy an epi-pen unless you have a prescription. Only in very limited scenarios, such as some limited school settings, are epi-pens stocked in emergency kits. 

How long do EpiPens last?

Pfizer states that they have a relatively short shelf life due to the instability of epinephrine, so it’s a minimum of 12 months before expiry. Epinephrine adrenaline breaks down with exposure to light, air, and high temperatures. It’s important to keep your epinepheline in a temperature controlled environment for this reason, if it turns cloudy or discolored, it has expired. 

Invisibly Allergic Food Allergy Blog

This blog post was a difficult one for me to write because I was out of my comfort zone and had to do a lot of research before being able to speak on this topic, which I still am only a beginner on. I feel this topic is important to include on Invisibly Allergic because it’s an huge part of living with a food allergy, and so I wanted to provide helpful and accurate information while shedding a light on this trillion dollar industry in the U.S. that has control over most Americans lives in a negative way.

Don’t know what to do with this information, have an opinion to share? Let’s talk about it and connect via my contact form!

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