Big Pharma, Big Danger

This post will look into the nefarious actions that big pharmaceutical companies (Big Pharma) are taking in an attempt to derail the legalization movement. More specifically, it will critically examine the immoral actions undertaken by Insys Therapeutics, an Arizona based company most well-known for its production of Subsys, a fentanyl-based spray which is used as a painkiller for cancer patients.

Anti-Legalization Rationale

Insys donated $500,000 towards the anti-legalization campaign in Arizona last year, one of the largest ever contributions of its kind. Insys is a large scale manufacturer of fentanyl, a painkiller 50 times more potent than heroin (Levin, 2017). As was stated earlier, this painkiller is an essential component in Subsys. Fentanyl is highly addictive, and potentially deadly (it is the substance that Prince overdosed on). This situation is especially problematic considering the opiate epidemic currently underway in the United States (Baca, 2017).

The main reason that these pharmaceutical companies are feeling pressure to encourage anti-legalization movements is simple: painkiller abuse and overdose are lower in states with medical marijuana laws (Ingraham, 2016). In medical marijuana states the average doctor prescribed 265 fewer doses of anti-depressants each year, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 541 fewer anti-nausea doses and 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication. Furthermore, opiate overdoses dropped by 25% in states with legalized marijuana. People are more likely to treat their pain with cannabis as opposed to opiate painkillers. In other words, pharmaceutical products are being substituted by cannabis; not good news for Big Pharma, but great news for overall health (Serrano, 2016). Due to this, Big Pharma has spent as estimated $880 million dollars in an effort to lobby against laws that seek to place limits on opioid prescriptions. 

The Hidden Contradiction

While all of the above seems bad enough, there is one more aspect to this story which seems almost unbelievable when viewed by any rational observer. Insys’ latest product is Syndros, a synthetic version of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the essential psychoactive component in cannabis (Baca, 2017). Let us be clear here: the supposed argument from Big Pharma is that we should not legalize marijuana as these companies believe that their synthetically produced products can provide better medical care for patients. After all, at the end of the day the goal of medical practice is the health of the patient, right?

So if these synthetic products (such as fentanyl) are really medically superior, then why is Insys developing a synthetic version of what legalization would make available anyway? Insys, by lobbying against the legalization movement and then creating a synthetic version of that which they supposedly disprove of, have clearly revealed their real motive: not healthcare, but profit. What makes this situation even worse is that the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) has given preliminary approval and a schedule II classification, meaning that the drug is considered dangerous but still has some medical value. Marijuana is still a schedule I drug and therefore classified as one of the world’s most dangerous drugs.


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