When the term drug cartels is used, people generally think of the dangerous groups from Medellín, in Colombia or Sinaloa, Mexico. These are illegal criminal organizations built around the trafficking of illegal and, in most cases, highly addictive drugs. Sinaloa and Medellin are just two examples. Groups like this exist in every country.
These organizations go to great lengths to hook and addict customers and then reduce their lives to feeding the resulting addiction and the cartel bank accounts. They will go to great lengths including mass murder and even paramilitary actions to protect their turf and keep the drugs flowing out and the money flowing back.
Criminal cartels also protect themselves by corrupting those that are tasked with stopping them. Police who are supposed to be arresting cartel members for their crimes are instead recruited by bribery, threats or, more usually, a combination of threats. A police officer may be told accept this money or your family will be killed.
And then there are the politicians. Always looking for funds for “campaigns,” political animals are ripe targets for corruption by drug cartels as in many countries they oversee the activities of police and military operations that would otherwise target the traffickers. A vast number of television shows and movies, both fictional and documentary, have painted the picture for us of how this evil still manages to flourish.
The Legal Cartels
Let’s examine the modern legal drug cartels of the United States. Just to be clear, not all of them are based here. But this is where they make the most money. Some, like Mylan NV, started here and moved overseas to pay less taxes on the money they siphon out of American wallets.
The hooking step varies more widely from the illegal cartels in that the “street level” activities can be part of a massive advertising campaign telling sufferers of some malady to “Ask your doctor is Blah-blah is right for you.” Of course this is followed by rapid-fire, unintelligible legalese and symptom descriptions done best by Robin Williams.
Then there’s the pain “industry” that grew out of Purdue Pharma’s utter greed to sell as much super addictive oxycodone as possible. Purdue is now being hammered out of existence in bankruptcy court but not before the heads of this cartel cut a deal to hold on to not only their personal billions, but the patent to another drug, buprenorphrine, which is now widely prescribed as a solution to opiate addiction. (This of course ignores the fact that buprenorphrine is also an opiate that is ten times as hard to withdraw from as heroin.)
Even more egregious are companies like Mylan, Lily, GSK and others that have massively inflated prices for drugs that people actually need to survive. An infuriating example is Eli Lily’s 700 percent inflation of the price of insulin. There’s no patent involved. The drug itself is generic and was not invented by Lily. Patients suffering from diabetes are faced with paying the prices being charged or face the debilitating effects of untreated diabetes which can include death. This is one thing and one thing alone: extortion.
Extortion is defined as the practice of trying to get something through force, threats or blackmail. In this case the threat is pay the price to keep your life.
Influence and Corruption
How do the American cartels get away with this continuous daylight robbery? Through a vast network of influence peddling, straight up bribery and political influence.
Lobbyists for the drug companies could careless what party affiliation Members of Congress may have. All that is required by them is that those members watch out for their interests in legislation. This is happening right this minute with three Democratic Members of Congress, paid by pharma lobbyists are attempting to obstruct $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill’s section on drug price controls.
The prevention of regulation is part of the marching orders of every pharma lobbying operation. This is not surprising since vast fortunes depend on the continuation of this epic run of price gouging. In no other country than ours do people pay more for everyday medicines. Asthma remedies cost ten times the number charged in other countries. A cure for Hepatitis C costs $18000 in the US but $1100 from India. The examples run on and on.
As Robin Williams joked in another bit, doctors are now the new dealers. Propublica has a long-running series called Dollars for Docs which has an interactive database showing how much money which pharma companies pay to which doctors. It is both eye-opening and infuriating.
The “Communist” Plot
Along with the bribery of doctors, influence of legislatures and cozy relationships with regulatory agencies comes that flanking PR activities. Whenever the specter of universal healthcare raises its head, the screams of “You cant do that here! That’s communist!” start increasing in volume. These voices always look like they are coming from everywhere, but the truth is that they are financed by the cartel profiteers.
It sounds like a joke to say “Universal healthcare is so complex that only 31 of the 32 industrialized nations have been able to figure it out.” But it is actually quite sad. It is a scathing commentary of how much we have allowed profiteers to con us into making decisions as a country that are contrary to everyone’s best interest—unless of course your interest is in a second or third summer home in The Hamptons.
Drug money is big business in both legal and illegal forms. Oddly enough there are very few differences between the legal and illegal brands when you dig down below the surface. In both realms the equation of “your money or your life” is the bottom line.