Martin Shkreli is Only the Tip of the Iceberg

Los Angeles, CA (TFC) – Unless you lived off-the-grid in 2015, you probably know who Martin Shkreli is.  For those of you don’t, Shkreli became the “most hated man in America” for using his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, to buy the rights to the drug, Daraprim, and then hiking its price by over 5000%.  This move was widely decried by the public who viewed this as an act of price-gouging and corporate greed.  The public was soon relieved to learn that karma finally caught up to Shkreli who was charged with securities fraud (which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in jail) and forced to resign from Turing Pharmaceuticals.  However, as satisfying as Shkreli’s downfall may be to observers, the problem of pharmaceutical price gouging still remains.

Martin Shkreli rose to prominence in 2015 when he founded Turing Pharmaceuticals.  He then proceeded to purchase the rights to Daraprim, which is used to treat neglected parasitic diseases, like toxoplasmosis, and is one of few drugs that can be safely and effectively used in AIDS patients.  Shkreli then raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 a pill to $750, which drew universal condemnation from the public and medical advocacy groups.  Turing Pharmaceuticals defended the price increase by claiming that the extra revenue would be invested in research and development for new toxoplasmosis drugs.  However, many medical and health professionals have questioned this claim on the grounds that there is currently no need for new treatment therapies for toxoplasmosis.  Many have since concluded that Shkreli’s actions were an attempt to profiteer off of the misery and suffering of others.

Shkreli’s defense of his price-gouging scheme stirred public outrage, with some people even sending him death threats.  The public, however, would soon be appeased upon learning that Shkreli was arrested by the FBI, charged with securities fraud (arising from his previous investment dealings), and forced to resign from Turing Pharmaceuticals.  Shkreli then seemed to disappear from the media spotlight and faded away from public memory.

Image Source: Bill Brooks, Flickr, Creative Commons Gold dollars

Image Source: Bill Brooks, Flickr, Creative Commons
Gold dollars

Unfortunately, it seems that Shkreli’s exit from the limelight led to a resumption of apathy towards the issue of pharmaceutical pricing.  In the aftermath of Shkreli’s high profile fall from grace, little attention has been devoted to this issue. This is unfortunate because it is still unclear what course of action Turing Pharmaceuticals will take with regards to the price of Daraprim, though they did pledge that “…no patient needing Daraprim will be denied access” and introduced reforms to try to ensure access to those in need.  Unfortunately, this saga only represents a small part of a larger problem as the pharmaceutical industry has started to raise  the price of medication in recent years.  Many allege that pressures from investors, who want to see financial returns, have contributed to this trend.  Sadly, this topic has largely slipped the public’s attention.

This problem also extends beyond the United States as many people in developing countries are in need of life-saving medication or vaccines.  However, the high price of these treatments is oftentimes in excess of a month’s salary, making it much too expensive for these people to afford.  As a result, many of these people rely on their government or charities to procure these medicines for them.  However, these entities have struggled to procure sufficient pharmaceutical supplies.  This problem has only worsened with further increases in pharmaceutical prices.  Some medical charities, like MSF/Doctors Without Borders, have even accused pharmaceutical companies of anti-competitive business practices, like restricting information relating to the price of pharmaceuticals.  This, they allege, has prevented countries from negotiating a fair price for the medications that their people desperately need.

The attention that Martin Shkreli’s actions drew to pharmaceutical pricing made this issue highly salient to the public.  Even presidential candidates have been forced to address this issue.  However, the lack of public interest in this topic following the downfall of Shkreli is concerning.  This has demonstrated that the public, without a highly visible figurehead to hate, will largely ignore this issue.  The public’s attention to this topic must be sustained if there is to be any hope for solving this issue.  Otherwise the current trend of pharmaceutical pricing will prevail.