Big Pharma’s Big Support for Health Advocacy Groups


A few months ago, I wrote a blog that most of online pharmacies were either illegal or operating outside US standards and are linked to 100,00 annual deaths related to counterfeit drugs. The advocacy group I identified in the blog that is diligently operating to both alert the public and create change to stop these illegal pharmacies takes most of its revenue from what we call ‘Big Pharma’.  I was not concerned.  Legal pharmacies have a stake in this, and the nonprofit working against the illegal pharmacies is not the type of group that would generate much individual consumer donations.  For close to 20 years, I served as primarily a CEO of nonprofits, raising money.  I understand the struggle raise revenues for the mission!  This article, however, gives me a new perspective on this.

‘Big Pharma’s’ big support for health advocacy groups opens the door for unwanted influence.  I am conflicted on this, because I do understand and appreciate how difficult it is to raise enough money for good missions to make a difference; in an associated article I will post later this week on topic, leadership within the nonprofits stress that they keep the pharmaceuticals at “arm’s length”.  In the case of the advocacy group for safe online pharmacies, we would hope that consumers do indeed purchase their critical medications from legitimate pharmacies.  And, there is no question that Big Pharma’s influence on policy and legislation is not always in the best interest of the consumer.  I received training from the National Center for Health Research to provide consumer testimony for hearings on FDA clinical studies and trials.  None of us in the training were under an illusion that we would be ‘at the table’ for these hearings, but rather behind a rope, among a much larger crowd, hopefully waiting (on our feet) for less than a three-minute opportunity to testify.  Being granted this right and then showing up for a hearing is no guarantee the consumer advocate will be heard.  At the table, and those who will be heard, are representatives of special interest groups, including ‘Big Pharma’.  Read the articles posted this week, and judge for yourself.  What is the solution?  Advocacy groups need support. The very large ones (related to heart disease, cancer, etc.) DO have strong consumer support, foundation and government grant funding.  But a wide host of much smaller and far less well-known groups doing good work on our behalf struggle.  A solution would be to widen the net for foundation and government grant and research support.  What else?

Betty Tonsing, Ph.D., CFRE, CLSS

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