July 16, 2019 | 85° F

NUNDA: Big Pharma’s price gauging, exploitation must be confronted


Opinion Column: Capitalist Culture


“The Big Pharma companies think they own Washington. Well, they don’t own me.” Last Sunday Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Mn.) took to the snowy stage of Minneapolis and proclaimed herself a candidate for the 2020 presidential elections. 

Among many other pivotal topics, Klobuchar brought up the tycoon-like behavior big pharmaceutical companies, or Big Pharma, have had on the U.S. population, specifically discussing Alec Smith, the late son of Nicole Smith-Holt who died after he tried to ration his insulin. Smith, 26 years old when he died, was a type 1 diabetic struggling to afford the vital medication needed to keep him alive. It is stories like this that make us question the tactics of Big Pharma companies and their ploy to capitalize on the not-so-fortunate lower and middle classes.

If I lacked any knowledge of a chronic disease like diabetes, Klobuchar’s words most likely would not have resonated with me the way they did. As I sat on the couch next to my mother, Klobuchar’s speech began to sink deep into the memories that I had of my grandmother. When I was about 4 or 5, I would watch her administer a shot of insulin into the side of her thigh. Every day I wondered if it hurt, but she was strong. I knew this not because of the nonchalant look across her face as the needle passed the surface of her skin, but from the joke that always came after: “If you keep staring, I’ll give you one too.” 

It seemed more like a threat if you did not know her and could not hear the sweet innocence in her voice, but an empty threat all the same. I thought back to the time my mother had bought all three of us McDonald’s. Again, I watched as she swiped away the excess salt, wondering all the if’s and analyzing every why. 

Today, as I am older and more capable of understanding, I think back to Klobuchar and Smith, and all of the Big Pharma companies that have made access to medicine far more difficult through hiked-up prices. I think back to my grandmother. Why would anyone want to make it harder for another life to keep living? For a grandmother to see her grandkids grow? A mother to see her son’s life flourish? Modern-day capitalism.

We live in an age where anything is profitable so long as it is in demand. In this case, it is the one true necessity that can be sold for monetary value besides clean water, food and shelter: medicine. People get sick. This aspect — unless ratified by a future utopian society that creates the ultimate drug — will always hold true. Medicine will always be in demand. People need to be able to regulate their health. Big Pharma companies have fed on this fact for years. They have found a way to monopolize medicine cabinets and get away with temporarily dealing with the controversy.

In a CBS News report on Smith’s passing, it was stated that the “price of insulin ... tripled between 2002 and 2013. Since 2008, three of the top makers raised the list price of insulin at least 10 times.” Here we have what is called a “moral dilemma.” On one end, there are doctors rooting for our health. Medical professionals prescribe these drugs in which they have advocated for our self-improvement. 

On the other end, corporations built atop a capitalist foundation prey on the sick and sink their teeth into the wallets of lower and middle-class America. Whose morals are up for bid is the unanswered question. My guess is that whoever or whatever is feeding into the con of Big Pharmaceuticals is completely missing the mark. They are disregarding individuals like Smith, throwing away the best interest of their customers ... of patients, and prioritizing profit. With that being said, I would like to show my personal gratitude toward Ms. "Minnesota Nice" and her impactful words.

Thank you, Klobuchar. Thank you for standing up on that platform in Boom Island and amplifying the voice of Smith-Holt. Thank you for proclaiming to the crowd in not-so-sunny Minnesota that the underdogs always have a chance. But most importantly, thank you for continuing a conversation even though not everyone may be listening. Big Pharma companies cannot and should not play even the slightest role in determining who lives and who does not. It is past the point that these corporations get to put a price on life. 

 Stacey Nunda is a School of Environemental and Biological Sciences sophomore majoring in environmental planning and design. Her column, “Capitalist Culture,” runs on alternate Thursdays.

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Stacey Nunda

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