Pharma is wobbling between useless and lethal

On the one hand, you’ve got powerful chemicals that can be used to make deadly addictive drugs like methamphetamine, stuff made in bulk to be used as precursors to other, legitimate organic chemistry products, so valuable that they get stolen in industrial quantities by criminals (remember the Dead Freight episode of Breaking Bad, in which they rob a train to make drugs?). On the other hand, you’ve got big pharma peddling pills that do absolutely nothing, stuff like Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic remedy that is sold over the counter at my local grocery store. Add another useless drug, phenylephrine, which is in just about every cold remedy available, partly because the effective medicine, pseudoephedrine, has been displaced by the garbage, since pseudoephedrine was actually desired by meth heads who wanted to cook up meth at home.

Pharmaceutical companies are all about making money, not helping people’s health problems. Take a look at this exposé by Skepchick and Ars Technica — Big Pharma is not your friend. It’s not just the Sacklers and OxyContin, they’re all rotten to the core.

OK, it’s not just Big Pharma. Blame Big Capitalism. The lack of regulation and the ability of the rich to just buy the legislation they want is what’s killing us.

Fortunately, better hygiene and the use of masks has meant I’ve avoided the usual fall/winter colds for a while now.


  1. benedic says

    Francis Wheen in “ How Mumbo Jumbo conquered the world”:
    ‘ Homeopathy has often been subjected to rigorous scientific testing since its discovery’ by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann at the end of the eighteenth century, and it has always failed – most recently on a BBC Horizon
    documentary in 2003. This is scarcely surprising, as Hahne. mann’s perverse ‘law of infinitesimals’ (the smaller the dose of adrug, the stronger its effect) means that there si effectively nothing to test. Homeopathic products arediluted in 99 parts water (and/or alcohol) and shaken vigorously; a drop of the resulting solution is then added to more water, and so on until the original substance has been diluted many millions of times. Atypical dilution is 30C, that is, one part cure to 1003 parts water: even if it contained only one molecule of the homeopathic ingredient, the amount of water required would be far greater than that in all the oceans of the earth. And, of course, no substance can be diluted beyond the point where one molecule remains without disappearing al- together. (An even more fantastic ratio of200C is claimed for Oscilococcinum, a product for ‘the relief of colds and flu-like
    symptoms’, whose active ingredient is a duck’s liver. If one molecule of the liver survived the dilution it would be m i x e d
    in100moleculesofwater,morethanthetotalnumber of molecules in the entire universe. Oscillococcinum had sales of $2o million in 1996, and all from a single duck’s liver – prompting US News & World Report to describe the hapless bird as “The 20 million dollar duck”

  2. hemidactylus says

    Does Claritin-D still contain pseudoephedrine? I stocked up on it early in the pandemic, but thankfully never needed it then or since.

    At least pharma has provided us with vaccines. I don’t know though how much innovation past the initial mRNAs as updated periodically will make it through to us. I had hoped we would have a nasal vax for COVID that ramps up mucosal immunity, but nothing seems to have come of it.

  3. ockhamsshavingbrush says

    Wellllllll……if it weren’t for Big Pharma, I’d been maggot-food more than 30 years ago. And I’m glad about that. But thanks to the public health system over here, I don’t have to plunk down a month’s salary when I pick up my insulin. The prices that they can charge are capped and they still make a metric fucktonne of money off me and my insurance company. And they still can afford to charge lower prices for the same chemicals in other EU-markets like Spain. I always stock up on pantoprazol when our friends from Spain come over here as they are €2.89 for 14 pills compared to €8.99 here in Berlin.

    That said….the costs to get a “new” drug on the market are insane. Yeah, I know, often times the “new” drugs are only marginally better than the old ones. It’smore oftenthan not just a ruse to slap new patents on the “new and improved” stuff and keep earning ungodly amounts of money. Let’s not get into the shenanigans the pharma companies go through in order to circumvent existing patent laws, like slapping a “new” patent on one particular but essential process step in the manufacturing process that was previously not patented and presto….another twenty years of patent protection.

    Another big source of income for Big Pharma are lifestyle drugs like boner pills, hair growth meds and other stuff like drugs agaist high cholesterol which most people would not need if they had a proper diet. Latest fad: ozempic for weight loss. Novo Nordisks stock price went through the roof. Yes, there are legitimate uses for ozempic but they do NOT fucking include skipping workout and still losing weight.

  4. Akira MacKenzie says

    But if we get rid of capitalism, then I’ll have to wear Bulgarian shoes, live in Siberia, and eat borsht!

  5. rorschach says

    There is also Pholcodine which can cause cross-reactivity anaphylactic reactions with common paralytics like Rocuronium.

    @2, “I had hoped we would have a nasal vax for COVID that ramps up mucosal immunity, but nothing seems to have come of it.”

    What I do know from Prof. Iwasaki is that the US government lost interest in a nasal vaccine and stuck with the Herd Immunity fable, there was just no more money for the research one day. Cuba did it, India claims it did it, but the US just went the UK and Sweden way of culling the old and vulnerable.

  6. wzrd1 says

    First, PZ erred in equating prescription drugs with OTC preparations, as prescription drugs are loosely and strictly regulated simultaneously in weird ways only politicians can enact, OTC not really regulated at all.
    Well, other than the Gods at the DEA, who ordained pseudoephedrine evil to choke off the methamphetamine supply, which proved utterly ineffective. Those Gods then decreed the utterly equal to placebo decongestant in its place, practicing both lawless enforcement and medicine equally without a license.
    Big pharma exists to make drugs according to demand, just like every other damned business, where officers have a fiduciary duty to make money for the company, to the exclusion of pretty much all else.

    But, the news today was that health insurance is going to have a massive spike, with anticipated employer cuts in what’s covered to reduce their costs. Welcome to the developing world, devolving rapidly, while we ignore the massive spike in infant mortality in the US as well.

    Oh and Moscow Mitch has forbidden the House to introduce any campaign finance reforms, such as a suggested bill to restrict donations from corporate sources. Can’t upset the Corporate Congress!
    Interesting to hear a Senate minority leader ordering the House majority around. But, gotta keep Daddy Warbucks happy, Annie be damned.

    Akira, never had borsht, wouldn’t mind trying it, as I happen to love beets. I have had black bread, which was exceptionally tasty. We don’t make much like that in the US, as we go with what’s quick and ass, erm, mass produced, rather than bread that’d take the better part of a day to cook at low temperature.
    They’re welcome to their fish eggs, too salty and I prefer my fish grown to adulthood. ;)
    But, PZ’s other entry on salmon migratory routes being blocked did give me a hankering for more salmon and I am heading off to the store anyway…
    I’ll just have to clear freezer space, as I’ll need room for the salmon and the pasta sauce I made the other day. And well, might as well eat what I can, as more teeth are to be removed tomorrow…
    At least I can still gum fish, al dente pasta, not so much. :/
    Once the wrack and ruin is cleared, it’ll be around 5 weeks before insertable choppers are available.

  7. wzrd1 says

    rorschach @ 5, well, the culling via communicable disease was cheaper than the 1930’s German gas van method.
    Oh, was that my outer voice? My bad.

  8. seachange says

    Interesting that she says big factories are necessary for pseudoephedrine. Ephedrine, not too different and from which the name of pseudoephedrine came from? It can be gotten as a tea from Ephedra the plant. I have known folks who only do herbal medicine and who have sinusitis grow and brew this. These would also have Venn overlap with the ghost of the duck liver folks.

    Not all herbs are sweet and innocent.

    Me, I have the reaction that kids have to pseudoephedrine (and anyone has to ephedra). I did not outgrow it. It is not fun.

  9. wzrd1 says

    seachange @ 8, one problem with the plant based version is dosage, which is variable, to say the least. Most ephedrine is synthesized, rather than extracted from plants for medical usage. From there, to pseudoephedrine.
    Used to take it as a decongestant, but given I’m on beta blockers, I’d want to consult with doctor first and even then, guardedly. Don’t want to pop the cork on my abdominal aorta.
    If we were capable of manufacturing it in the past, I really doubt that the manufacturing plants suddenly evaporated from disuse. So, their excuses maximum effective range remains the same as with all excuses, zero meters.

    As for children’s reactions to various drugs, yeah, pediatricians chuckle and conditionally agree, there’s normal human responses to drugs, then there are children’s reactions to various drugs… Some adults share in that scope, likely some enzyme being slightly deficient or something similar. But then, that’s why there are so many doctors, to sort through those complexities that are far beyond my level of training and experience.
    And I’m full of good medical advice: Talk to your doctor. ;)

  10. hemidactylus says

    I always found valerian good at calming my nerves and helping me sleep better. This past year I have not found it stocked anymore. Was it cutting too deeply into profits of anxiolytic pharmaceuticals? How deep does this rabbit hole go?

  11. wzrd1 says

    Ah, re pseudoephedrine:
    Although pseudoephedrine occurs naturally as an alkaloid in certain plant species (for example, as a constituent of extracts from the Ephedra species, also known as ma huang, in which it occurs together with other isomers of ephedrine), the majority of pseudoephedrine produced for commercial use is derived from yeast fermentation of dextrose in the presence of benzaldehyde. In this process, specialized strains of yeast (typically a variety of Candida utilis or Saccharomyces cerevisiae) are added to large vats containing water, dextrose and the enzyme pyruvate decarboxylase (such as found in beets and other plants). After the yeast has begun fermenting the dextrose, the benzaldehyde is added to the vats, and in this environment the yeast converts the ingredients to the precursor l-phenylacetylcarbinol (L-PAC). L-PAC is then chemically converted to pseudoephedrine via reductive amination.

    Good old yeast to the rescue again!
    Hell, when it ain’t yeast, it’s my old school chum, Eddie Coli. ;)
    Although, he always was a bit of a boor if he was going through an odd phage…

    And you thought dad jokes were bad. :P

  12. stuffin says

    I worked in Nursing Homes (my 2nd job) as a Registered Nurse in the mid 1980s. Over 80% of the patients were prescribed Hydergine 1-2mg three times a day. Was almost an automatic doctor’s order on new admissions.

    My observations over time lead me to conclude the medication did absolutely nothing for the patient but gave a lotta cash to Big Pharma. (see below)

    From the NIH National Library of Medicine: Unfortunately, most of the randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled trials of hydergine were conducted and published before the advent of consensus-based diagnostic standards of dementia in 1984; therefore diagnostic criteria were less specific. As a result, uncertainty remains regarding hydergine’s efficacy in dementia.

  13. forgotmyginkgo says

    Ope, late as always. Funny this should drop today. On Monday, I was given an prescription for my MS which is slogging from RR to SP… My monthly prescription cost is (with insurance!) would be just over $10,000 … so yeah, not going to do that.

    When I lived in Seattle, my neurologist there had me on a medical marijuana suspension (mostly cannabidiol) that was fantastic at managing my disease. Now I live in Wisconsin and can’t even get medical exception. Friday, I’m driving to Illinois to break the law and see a new neurologist and get medical marijuana using a friend’s address as my own. At $10K per month, it’s worth the gamble. I’m happy to be the middle aged (former) soccer mom MS patient that gets cuffed and stuffed to make the PR nightmare that Wisconsin will have to face to make at least medical marijuana legal.

  14. Daniel Storms says

    My understanding from when I first heard the story on NPR was that phenylephrine works well as a decongestant when applied nasally as a spray but is useless in pill form. But speaking of useless drugs, what about acetaminophen? I’ve got chronic lumbar pain and arthritic knees, and, since NSAIDs give me GI bleeding, all I ever hear “take Tylenol.” Which does absolutely nothing for my pain. A Chochran Review meta-ananlysis proved it did nothing for arthritis and was only 10% better than placebo for headache. And it’s in everything. Thankfully, I’ve found a medical marijuana balm that seems to help.

    I have a lot of familiarity with Big Parma, what with Type 1 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, bronchiectasis, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.. Luckily, most are pretty well controlled with drugs, exercise, and diet (but the drugs are essential). And most of the drugs are generic, so the cost is not prohibative. Except for the CLL drug, ibrutinib. That one, if I were to pay bustout retail, would be nearly $15,000. A month. Much as I despise insurance companies, they do pick up the freight on that one. What is most galling to me is that the drug is not all that new, the company peddling is not the one that incurred the development costs, and they’ve raised the price 2 or 3 times since they bought the company that bought the developer.

  15. minnemooseus says

    All I know is that I occasionally use a nasal decongestant product that phenylephrine is the active ingredient, and it works for me.
    It would be quite the mystery, if people continued buying such a product if they found it not to work.

  16. minnemooseus says

    Addendum to previous message: What I use is the pill form, which is allegedly the form that does NOT work. Works for me.

  17. brightmoon says

    I usually just take NyQuil to sleep if I have a cold or flu. During the day I just let the fever run and I try to raise my body temp even higher by hiding under extra blankets, not eating red meat, and taking hot lemonade (using real lemons) as a tea! I’ve rarely had a cold or the flu bother me for more than 3 days

  18. says

    Homeopathy has often been subjected to rigorous scientific testing since its discovery’ by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann at the end of the eighteenth century, and it has always failed – most recently on a BBC Horizon
    documentary in 2003…

    Which makes me wonder what the hell that Hahnemann guy actually “discovered”…

  19. microraptor says

    Raging Bee @20: He didn’t really discover anything- he claimed that the idea for homeopathy came to him after having a dream about a ghost. Though it did possibly have some health benefits at the time, but only because “medicine” at the time often involved giving sick people toxic substances then seeing if something changed. Giving them water was in many cases actually better.

  20. wzrd1 says

    Daniel Storms @ 14, well, if that’s a suggestion, I consider actual murder of a medical professional – literally.
    I’m of an age where being murdered by the state or incarcerated for life is, well deficient in terms of a deterrent.
    And a subordinate offered an insubordinate response to my taking medication as prescribed, “Pain builds character”.
    Built the shit out of his character with a kick to the shins.
    As for untreated cancer pain, dealt with terminal cancer patients in my clinical rotation.
    Vivisection is nice in comparison.
    And I’m pulling a lot of punches there.

  21. Robbo says

    homeopathy is dumb:

    order of magnitude calculation:
    salt is a homeopathic “remedy” for respiratory ailments.
    say you make up a “remedy” of 10 moles NaCl in 1 liter of water.
    a 30C dilution is diluting the original mixture to 1%, 30 times, or decreasing the NaCl by a factor of 10^60.
    that means you expect to have 10^-59 moles, or about 10^-35 molecules of NaCl left in the 1 liter, which is a pretty good operational definition of “None.”
    the volume of water you would need to expect to have one NaCl molecule is 10^35 liter, or about 10^32 cubic meters.
    the volume of the sun is about 10^27 cubic meters.
    so, a 30C respiratory remedy has the salt content equivalent to 1 NaCl molecule in a volume of water 100,000 times the size of the sun.

  22. wzrd1 says

    Could’ve gone with that dilution factor last night with my “spiced Italian green beans”. The brand apparently finds salt is a spice and really loaded the hell out of them with it. :/
    I was thirsty all damned night long after that mess!

    I typically don’t salt anything, so a sudden massive amount of salt is beyond unwelcome.

    As for homeopathy, yeah, pure lunacy there. If a chemical is so diluted, but “water remembers it”, surely that water will also “remember” carrying various toxic substances as well, so obviously we’re all dead or something.

  23. wzrd1 says

    And was still a bit thirsty today, two days after that canned salt fest.
    I think I’ll toss that Margret Holmes can into the trash, where it’ll be safest.
    The sugar fest tomatoes, I’ll put on the food bank table. Replaced them with roma crushed tomatoes today.
    And arm wrestled the freezer into compliance with the additional load…
    I’ll relocate the dry milk mix a neighbor gave me (fabric shopping bag full of it) and emplace the cans of tomatoes back in that old spot.
    And I’ve got fresh pork hocks for flavoring and actual seasoning of the sauce, as bone adds gelatin and the fats neutralize acids in the tomatoes.
    Cooking is indeed chemistry.
    As is life.

    Tomorrow, as my back hurts like hell.

    Also picked up a rolling pin, which was on special at the dollar store, buy one, get one half off. Erm, howinhell many rolling pins does one need at a time?
    Even the checkout clerk was mystified.