by ANH Executive Director, Gretchen DuBeau
My first exposure to cronyism – by special interests such as big companies for financial benefit, was in 1996. In college, I learned about World Bank lending policies to poor countries in Africa that required, as a condition of loan money, farmers buy specific equipment from US companies. The equipment wasn’t appropriate for their type of farming, but these farmers were desperate, and the World Bank couched it as helping lesser developed countries modernize by adopting new practices.
The World Bank has almost 200 member countries. The U.S., Japan, China, Germany, and the U.K. have the most voting power. It supposedly aims loans at developing countries to help reduce poverty, but what I saw was a beneficial business opportunity for US corporations. The loans didn’t appear culturally appropriate or geared toward the long-term success of those in need. Indeed, the farmers ended up worse off, saddled with huge debts from the required purchases, and owning machinery they couldn’t use because inputs like gasoline were out of reach.
The thing that stayed with me was this quasigovernmental organization purportedly operating to benefit lower income countries in need that instead controlled a process that created wealth for specific, pre-selected companies. I didn’t know at the time what cronyism was, nor did I know that it underlies all politics, abroad and at home, and that it impacts many areas of our lives including our health freedom.
A few years later I again found myself in the classroom, in law school, and again discussing cronyism. This time the subject was the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a governmental agency responsible for protecting the public health. The subject was drug company liability, or rather the lack thereof, resulting from pharmaceutical industry influence over the FDA regulatory framework that governs drug approval, marketing, and sales.
Former FDA employee and whistle blower Dr. David Graham said it best, “the FDA is not able to adequately protect the American public. It’s more interested in protecting the interests of industry. It views industry as its client, and the client is someone whose interest you represent.”
Through the “revolving door,” FDA employees are encouraged to do pharma’s bidding in exchange for cushy jobs when they enter the private sector. For example, in a review published in the BMJ Medical Journal, 27 percent of 55 FDA reviewers responsible for approving hematology-oncology drugs left the FDA to work for the industry they previously regulated. That’s more than a quarter of those FDA employees!
They also make big bucks. Curtis Wright, for example, the FDA director who oversaw the approval of OxyContin, left the FDA one year later to work for Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin. He received $400,000 in compensation his first year.
It gets worse. The FDA receives 45% of its operating budget directly from drug companies in the form of “user fees” (used for the approval of new drugs, biologics and devices), but 65% of the funding for human drug regulatory activities are derived from user fees. Drug companies might as well be signing the paychecks for those who help bring their drugs to market.
The fox is guarding the henhouse, yet Congress reauthorizes the program every five years. Why? In 2020, drug companies spent $314,590,301 lobbying Congress.
Like the World Bank, the FDA claims it is serving a public good, in this case protecting public health, but creating wealth for private companies appears their priority.
After law school, I worked in environmental, food, and human rights politics, and guess what I encountered in all three? The same cronyism I had seen with the World Bank and the FDA.
In all these areas, I noticed that no one was talking about the cronyism. The focus was generally on the issue at hand, like a “bad” drug company that secretly knew its drug was dangerous but continued to sell it anyway. The emphasis was on the actions of the bad actor, the drug company, rather than the regulators that looked the other way, even as scores of adverse events and deaths were reported. But no one asked, how could this have happened in the first instance? No one asked, why does the drug approval process continue to allow dangerous drugs into the market? And no one sought to make any changes in the interest of protecting public health.
For example, there were 100,000 heart attacks and 55,000 deaths from the drug Vioxx. The FDA did nothing to protect the public, even as the numbers continued to climb. Finally, Merck buckled from the pressure and pulled its own drug from the market.
Vioxx may be gone from the market, but the same cronyism that allowed the scandal to happen in the first instance remains today, and, according to the FDA’s adverse event database, last year alone there were 2,333,453 injures and 187,750 deaths reported from prescription medications.
Several years after law school, I developed a series of health conditions. This issue of cronyism that had followed and frustrated me for years suddenly became very personal, because I became someone who needed access to natural therapies to heal and to stay healthy.
I didn’t know it at first, because after the conventional medical system failed me, I couldn’t even find information about alternatives online. This is because it’s illegal for the companies that do the research to meaningfully educate people about the health benefits of natural health products. Likewise, natural health practitioners are hesitant to publish information about cutting edge therapies they’ve found clinically beneficial, out of fear that their state medical boards will charge them with practicing outside the “standard of care”, that is, using different therapies than conventional medical doctors.
Nevertheless, with persistence I learned how to heal with natural remedies. But many of these natural remedies, such as NAC, are now in jeopardy, and my continued access is threatened. I am asking, why?
Why would Congress seek to pass laws that will reduce access to safe supplements that people love? Why would the FDA seek to ban safe bioidentical hormones like estriol that women prefer? Why would the FDA create policies that will reduce access to important supplements that support health and homeopathic medicines that work well and without drug side effects? Because each of these modalities threatens drug company profits.
Looking back, it seems I was destined to end up at the Alliance for Natural Health, USA. I’ve been the Executive Director since 2008, and it’s given me the rare gift of aligning my passion with my profession. At ANH-USA, we ask, why? Why does our government promote the interests of big business to the detriment of our health and our freedom? And then we do something about it!
ANH-USA educational and political campaigns are designed to empower people to take back their health, and to change the political tide that threatens us all. We delve deep into individual, community-based, and political solutions, while identifying both the cradle of cronyism and the grave.
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