In a scathing exposé, the Washington Post reports that the benefits of the anemia drugs Procrit, Epogen, and Aranesp, widely used in dialysis and cancer patients, were “wildly overstated” while potentially fatal side effects, namely stroke and cancer, were “overlooked.”
The paper reports that a recent 84-page study issued by Medicare researchers found there was no solid evidence that the drugs had any clinical benefit, increased survival or improved quality of life, benefits that the drug companies Johnson & Johnson and Amgen marketed heavily for more than 20 years.
According to the paper, the multibillion-dollar profits garnered by drug companies occurred through incentives “embedded in the U.S. health-care system” high priced lobbying and “well-funded research” not to mention the actions of doctors, clinics, and hospitals across the country that were able to score huge profits on the drugs, especially as the dosages were increased.
By 2007, 80 percent of the 175,000 Medicare patients who received dialysis were being injected with the anemia drugs at levels beyond what is now considered safe by the FDA. Charles Bennett, endowed chair at the Medication Safety and Efficacy Center of Economic Excellence at the University of South Carolina, told the Washington Post that “It was just so easy to do – you put this stuff in the patient’s arm, and you made thousands of dollars. An oncologist could make anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 a year from this along. And all the while they were told that it was good for the patient.”
For the families of those who were given the drugs and died, doubt is added to grief: “What killed their loved ones – the disease of the drugs they took to treat it,” the paper writes.
No class action lawsuits have been filed thus far against the companies by the families of lost loved ones, though at least one whistleblower lawsuit has been filed against Amgen for illegal sale tactics.