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FDA Approved Drugs: The Other Drug War

Last spring, scientists at the University of Toronto announced the results of a new study: By their calculations, the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States is FDA-approved prescription drugs. They weren't talking about drug abuse or overdoses, but rather, appropriately administered drugs. Side effects, they determined, cause close to 106,000 deaths per year. That's more deaths than the annual totals for AIDS, suicide, and homicide combined, and equal to an astonishing 290 deaths per day. Mother Jones, Nov. 1998, p. 39

Drugstore Robbery: Drug companies gouge the sick

On July 22, 2003, Steve Wilson, an investigative reporter for channel 7 News in Detroit, did a story on generic drug price gouging by pharmacies. He found in his investigation, that some of these generic drugs were marked up as much as 3,000% or more. Yes, that's not a typo . . . three thousand percent!

BIG RIP-OFF: The Cost of Prescription Drugs*

Did you ever wonder how much it costs a drug company for the active ingredient in prescription medications? Some people think it must cost a lot, since many drugs sell for more than $2.00 per tablet. We did a search of offshore chemical synthesizers that supply the active ingredients found in drugs approved by the FDA. As we have revealed in past issues of Life Extension, a significant percentage of drugs sold in the United States contain active ingredients made in other countries.

In our independent investigation of how much profit drug companies really make, we obtained the actual price of active ingredients used in some of the most popular drugs sold in America. The chart below speaks for itself.

Brand Name of Drug

Consumer Price/
100 tabs

Cost of General Active Ingredients

Percent Markup

Celebrex 100 mg




Claritin 10 mg




Keflex 250 mg




Lipitor 20 mg




Norvasc 10 mg




Paxil 20 mg




Prevacid 30 mg




Prilosec 20 mg




Prozac 20 mg




Tenormin 50 mg




Vasotec 10 mg




Xanax 1mg




Zestril 20 mg




Zithromax 600mg




Zocor 40mg




Zoloft 50mg




This is shocking, but it is not the entire picture. Pharmaceutical companies have to cover the large research and development costs of creating the drugs, as well as the overhead costs of manufacturing, marketing, and shipping them; retail pharmacies have to cover the overhead costs of store operations (including the salaries of pharmacists); and both groups have to make a profit from their sales. The question is where does the intersection of morality and profits meet?


Study Confirms: "Drug Use Is Not Abuse"

Brown University Digest of Addiction Theory and Application, March 2000, Vol. 19, No.3.

"These data . . . provide preliminary evidence that self-described nondeviant, physically and psychologically healthy adults can use alcohol and illicit psychoactive drugs in a safe and controlled manner.. . . Policies, laws, education and treatment approaches that treat all drug consumption as unhealthy, and thus drug abuse, appear to be inherently flawed in their conceptual design."  


National Household Survey on drug use, 1999

Note that the Survey finds very slight use of 'hard drugs' like cocaine, heroin and crack. The numbers for heroin are so small that frequent users (defined as 51 or more times per year) are not even tracked by the national survey.


Ever Used

Use/Past Yr

Use/Past Mo

#Freq Use


180 million

138 million

105 million

45 million


159 million

67 million

57 million

* nt


76 million

20 million

11 million

** nct


25 million

3.6 million 

1.5 million

** nct


6 million

1.0 million

0.4 million

* nt


3 million

0.4 million

0.2 million

* nt

* Not tracked by survey
** Not currently tracked by survey

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services, Summary of Findings from the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (Rockville, MD: SAMHSA, August 2000), pp. G-5 & G-21

Annual Causes of Drug-induced Deaths in the US

Tobacco, Average 1990 - 94:

430,700 (1)

Alcohol, 1996:

110,640 (2)

Adverse Reactions to Prescription Drugs, 1982 - 98:

32,000 (3)

Suicide, 1998:

30,575 (4)

Homicide, 1998:

18,272 (5)

All licit & illicit drug-induced deaths, 1998:

16,926 (6)

Asprin and Other Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, 1992:

7,600 (7)

Marijuana, throughout recorded medical history:

0 (8)


1. "Smoking-Attributable Mortality and Years of Potential Life Lost," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control, 1997), May 23, 1997, Vol. 46, No. 20, p. 449.

2. "Number of deaths and age-adjusted death rates per 100,000 population for categories of alcohol-related (A-R) mortality, United States and States, 1979-96," National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, from the web at , last accessed Feb. 12, 2001, citing Alcohol Epidemiologic Data System, Saadatmand, F, Stinson, FS, Grant, BF, and Dufour, MC, "Surveillance Report #52: Liver Cirrhosis Mortality in the United States, 1970-96" (Rockville, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Division of Biometry and Epidemiology, December 1999).

3. Lazarou, J, Pomeranz, BH, Corey, PN, "Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients: a meta-analysis of prospective studies," Journal of the American Medical Association (Chicago, IL: American Medical Association, 1998), 1998;279:1200-1205, also letters column, "Adverse Drug Reactions in Hospitalized Patients,", JAMA (Chicago, IL: AMA, 1998), Nov. 25, 1998, Vol. 280, No. 20, from the web at , last accessed Feb. 12, 2001.

4. Murphy, Sheila L., "Deaths: Final Data for 1998,"National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 48, No. 11 (Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, July 24, 2000), Table 10, p. 53.

5. Murphy, Sheila L., "Deaths: Final Data for 1998,"National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 48, No. 11 (Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, July 24, 2000), Table 10, p. 53.

6. Murphy, Sheila L., "Deaths: Final Data for 1998,"National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 48, No. 11 (Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, July 24, 2000), pp. 1, 10.

7. Robyn Tamblyn, PhD; Laeora Berkson, MD, MHPE, FRCPC; W. Dale Dauphinee, MD, FRCPC; David Gayton, MD, PhD, FRCPC; Roland Grad, MD, MSc; Allen Huang, MD, FRCPC; Lisa Isaac, PhD; Peter McLeod, MD, FRCPC; and Linda Snell, MD, MHPE, FRCPC, "Unnecessary Prescribing of NSAIDs and the Management of NSAID-Related Gastropathy in Medical Practice," Annals of Internal Medicine (Washington, DC: American College of Physicians, 1997), September 15, 1997, 127:429-438, from the web at , last accessed Feb. 14, 2001, citing Fries, JF, "Assessing and understanding patient risk," Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology Supplement, 1992;92:21-4.

8. Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), available on the web at ; also see Janet E. Joy, Stanley J. Watson, Jr., and John A Benson, Jr., Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. Division of Neuroscience and Behavioral Research, Institute of Medicine (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1999, available on the web at ; and US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, "In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling Petition" (Docket #86-22), September 6, 1988, p. 57.

Statistics compiled by Common Sense for Drug Policy, *, Washington, DC * Email:


NIDA study links marijuana crackdown to increase in methamphetamine "ice" in Hawai'i.

FCDA literature and PDF files



Medical Marijuana

Judge Young on Medical Marijuana

Prosecutor's Advisory Panel

Needle Exchange, Harm Reduction


Death Rates




Other Voices

Effective Policy

International, Peru, Colombia. Mexico



Drug Truce

Shattered Lives

Safety, Vaporizers

Zero Tolerance

Medical Marijuana Updates


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