Medicine, Money, and Mortality Rates

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There’s an epidemic of irrational fear and hatred in America today in regards to modern medicine. The ideology is that “Big Pharma” is doing everything it can to keep us sick so they make a larger profit. There’s talk about some big conspiracy between “Big Pharma” and government to perpetuate illness so they can make more money off of the poor, unfortunate citizens.

We hear this often as a justification for turning to “supplements, complimentary, and alternative medicine,” or, as Mark Crislip puts it, SCAMS. This same ideology often fuels the anti-vaccination movement as well, because they are under the impression that vaccines are a massive, money making scheme.

Now, this isn’t to say that the pharmaceutical industry isn’t driven by money. Of course is, like every other industry. The thing is, so is the alternative medicine industry, and they aren’t helping you in the slightest.

Let’s look at the numbers and see for ourselves.

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Follow The Money

The global pharmaceutical market is a roughly $300 billion per year industry. It’s anticipated to grow to $400 billion per year within 3 years.

The current development from the US pharmaceutical industry has over 5,000 new medicines and 3,400 new compounds currently being studied, more than any other region around the world.

It employs 810,000 people directly, and support 3.4 million jobs in the US alone.

In total revenue for all products, not just drugs, in 2013, the top 50 pharmaceutical companies reported $792 billion gross.

The alternative medicine industry is a $34 billion industry, with an expectation to reach $115 billion by 2015.

Only about one third of alternative medicine treatments being marketed have been tested.

The average profit margin for pharmaceutical companies is 16.4 percent.

There’s very little made public on the profit margins of SCAMS, however, consider that they don’t need to pay for testing, trials, or any of the safety protocols that medical companies do. The profit margin for TrueHope, a company maketing an alternative treatment for schizophrenia gives us a great idea of what that looks like, showing a profit margin of around 95%.

OK, so let’s look at vaccines in particular. The top 50 pharmaceutical companies bring in $791 billion per year (more than a trillion dollars for the industry). Of that, they can expect a net profit of $2.5 billion from vaccines. That’s a drop in the bucket.

Let’s compare with the cost of not having the vaccine. Before it was developed, we were looking at around 147,000 cases of pertussis per year. Let’s break down the costs of that.

8000 of those resulted in death. With the average funeral cost of $8,000, the total expense of those 8000 deaths would be around $64 million in that year.

Now, without death, the average cost per case for treatment would be around $6,000. That would equate to around $882 million dollars in treatments.

That would mean that a single vaccine, of the 14 or so standard childhood vaccines, if not provided, would equate to around $946 million dollars spent to the medical industry. That’s 37% of what the companies make from vaccines.

Spread that as an average across the 14 illness being vaccinated for, and you’d have a total of $13.2 billion in revenue for treatment of illnesses. That would be the medical industry is losing out on $10.7 billion in revenue thanks to vaccines.

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A Bit About Death

People talk often about deaths attributed to medicines and hospital errors, and that they are a good reason why people should use alternative treatments.

Now, errors happen. It’s not a good thing, and it’s something that the industry is always working hard to prevent, but in the end, they do happen.

The deaths range from 210,000 – 440,000 patients each year.

That sounds like a lot, I know.

Consider, though the deaths prevented thanks to modern medicine and vaccines.

Measles used to kill 150,000 people very year.

Pertussis killed 8000 per year in the US alone.

There used to be countless things that could kill you that no longer do, in general, and we have modern medicine to thank.

For most of human history, the life expectancy was about 35 years of age. As late as 1900, it was 48 years of age. Today, it averages 77.7 years of age, much of which is due to advances in health and medicine.

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The Corporate Trail

OK, let’s add to this a bit.

A large portion (70% or so) of the alternative medicine industry is owned by the major pharmaceutical industry anyway.

“Responsible companies put in very strict” manufacturing practices voluntarily, before the FDA acted, said NBTY’s president, Harvey Kamil. His company makes 50 billion capsules and tablets a year, plus extracts, aromatherapies and nutrition bars. It sells mostly to mass-market retailers who want to see certifications and “seals of approval” by the Natural Products Association and other such groups that set quality-control standards, he said.

The big exception, of course, is GNC, who reported $2.63 billion in revenue by themselves, making them “Big Pharma” themselves.

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In closing, there are a couple important truths to understand here.

Yes, the pharmaceutical is a large, money making industry.

The alternative medicine industry is also a large, money making industry, with a far higher profit margin, and the majority of their treatments have no studies to show safety or efficacy.

Yes, people die from medical malpractice and mistakes, and this is something that needs to be improved upon greatly.

Countless more would die without modern medicine and vaccines.

How many of you would be expected to already have died before the invention of modern medical practices?

Another thing to keep in mind is that the people who work for and run these companies are all human beings. They have friends, families, spouses, children, all of whom they’d like to see live a long and healthy life.

These aren’t monsters who don’t care about the value of human life. These are employees and doctors who are in the business of saving it.

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References

“2014 Market Research Report on Homeopathic & Alternative Medicine Practitioners Industry.” 2014 Homeopathic & Alternative Medicine Practitioners Industry Statistics Market Research Report. Web. 21 June 2014.

Allen, ProPublica Marshall. “How Many Die From Medical Mistakes In U.S. Hospitals?” NPR. NPR, 20 Sept. 2013. Web. 18 June 2014.

“Alternative Medicine.” – RationalWiki. Web. 21 June 2014.

“Alternative Medicine Industry Market Research & Statistics.” Alternative Medicine Industry Market Research & Statistics. Web. 19 June 2014.

“Big Pharma Supports the Antivaccine Movement–the Real Conspiracy.” Skeptical Raptor’s Blog. Web. 21 June 2014.

“Complementary and Natural Treatments – Schizophrenia.com.” Complementary and Natural Treatments – Schizophrenia.com. Web. 21 June 2014.

“GNC Reports 8.2 Increase in Revenue for 2013.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 June 2014.

Helmuth, Laura. “You Used to Get One Life. Now You Get Two. #NotDeadYet.” Slate Magazine. Web. 21 June 2014.

Mahar, Maggie. “Who Is Making the Biggest Profits From U.S. Healthcare? You Might Be Surprised . . .” Health Beat by Maggie Mahar. Web. 20 June 2014.

“Many Vitamins, Supplements Made by Big Pharmaceutical Companies.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 10 June 2009. Web. 21 June 2014.

Nuwer, Rachel. “Alternative Medicine Is a $34 Billion Industry, But Only One-Third of the Treatments Have Been Tested.” Smithsonian. 8 June 2013. Web. 21 June 2014.

“Pharmaceutical Industry.” WHO. Web. 21 June 2014.

“SelectUSA.” The Pharmaceutical and Biotech Industries in the United States. Web. 18 June 2014.

“Top 50 Big Top Pharmaceutical Companies Deals | Current Partnering.” Top 50 Big Top Pharmaceutical Companies Deals | Current Partnering. Web. 21 June 2014.

Tuteur, Amy, MD. “Comment Navigation.” Longing for a past That Never Existed « Science-Based Medicine. 18 Feb. 2010. Web. 18 June 2014.

“Vaccines.” Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Vaccine and Immunization Information. Web. 21 June 2014.

 

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Bioethics and Ethical Philosophy student at Cleveland State University, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes. He writes about science, technology, politics, human rights, feminism, religion, and any other topic that catches his eye.

See his full bio!

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