Big Pharma vs. the Supplement Industry

by Josh Hodnik

Americans consume more prescription drugs than anyone else in the world, by a pretty large margin. Coincidentally, Americans also surpass everyone else in illicit drug use. This gives reason to believe that a reliance on prescription medications to treat certain ailments can lead to dependence. Maybe this is what Big Pharma has wanted to achieve. $2 trillion a year is spent on health care in the United States. Much of that is shuttled through the pharmaceutical industry. While the United States spends more money on health care than any other country, we rank among the highest in regards to obesity and mental illness. Life expectancy has increased due to progressive health care, but the quality of life really hasn’t. Modern medicine has obviously allowed people with life threatening diseases to live normal lives, but our society has become reliant upon pharmaceutical drugs to fix everything. With that, natural remedies such as supplements and herbs have been disregarded by much of Western society.

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) was put together to allow the FDA to regulate both finished dietary supplements and dietary ingredients. This Act requires that manufacturers and distributors who wish to market dietary supplements that contain “new dietary ingredients” must notify the FDA about these ingredients. During this process, the one submitting the request has to show substantial evidence that the new ingredient is safe. Rarely does the FDA ever feel that any new ingredient is safe for marketing, and many applications are denied. This regulation has undoubtedly kept some unsafe ingredients off store shelves, but it has also denied many safe and effective supplements from being used. So, in a way, DSHEA could be viewed as a double edged sword.

As the government continues to tighten their leash on the supplement industry, an estimated 100,000 people are dying annually from prescription drug use. With this in mind, it would appear that the focus is totally tuned into the wrong place. Prescription drugs do have their place, but many times, prescriptions are written to fix a problem that could be fixed with proper nutrient replenishment. If a patient was advised to change their lifestyle, diet, and take natural supplements, that would be bad business for doctors and Big Pharma. They aren’t getting rich by making people well. The pharmaceutical industry is a machine that pads the pockets of many people, and they aren’t going to slow things down to protect the consumer. On the other hand, when a consumer decides to take triple the recommended dose of a particular weight loss supplement and has some kind of reaction, everyone overreacts. Lawmakers then lobby to have the product taken off store shelves. This is how things began with the fight against ephedrine and then DMAA. Ephedrine was banned but doctors still write pump out scripts for Adderall without batting an eye. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies weren’t making money from people buying ephedrine at their local supplement shop, and that was the problem. It seems like there is an agenda to steer people away from supplements and other natural remedies.

Last year, the government attempted to list Kratom as a Schedule I narcotic. No known deaths have ever occurred from anyone using Kratom, but the government wanted to put it the same category as Heroin, one class higher than Oxycontin, which has been linked to thousands of deaths. Again it’s not about health and safety but about revenue. The same could be said about marijuana. Prescription drug makers have pushed against the legalization of marijuana due to fear of losing revenue. It’s been shown that opiate and alcohol use would decrease if marijuana were legalized. While this would more than likely cut down on deaths and health problems, people that have a financial stake in these corporations simply don’t care. It’s all about the money, not health and safety as they claim.

It can certainly be said that Big Pharma has something to lose with the growing supplement industry. They want nothing more than for the FDA to continue to tighten their grip and regulate it completely. If this happened, many companies would more than likely go out of business, and the price of supplements would skyrocket. So there is an agenda for recent banning of ingredients such as DMAA. It isn’t entirely because it is an unsafe ingredient. If it were about chasing unsafe ingredients, many prescription drugs and their maker’s would be the target, not the supplement industry. You can bet that behind the scenes, Big Pharma is making a push to make sure that the supplement industry doesn’t cut into their piece of the pie any more than it already has. If anyone thinks that pharmaceutical companies or the FDA has the consumer’s health and well-being in mind with how they try to control the supplement industry, think again. It’s all about the mighty dollar.

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