Via America’s LawyerMike Papantonio and Truth In Media’s investigative journalist Ben Swann examine the revolving door phenomenon between the FDA and pharmaceutical companies. The government has capped funding for the FDA, meaning capped salaries for regulators working there. Drug companies are capitalizing on this by offering MASSIVE salaries as a means of buying influence among FDA staff responsible for approving new drugs in an all-out bidding war.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             There’s a good reason why drug companies in the US don’t have to lower their prices or send their CEOs to prison when they knowingly put out a product that kills consumers. Drug companies have money and access, and that’s all you need to get away with almost anything in this country. And it doesn’t hurt that they have a massive influence over corporate media.

Joining me to talk about Big Pharma’s web of influence is Ben Swann, who knows an awful lot about this. Ben, you’ve got a new set of videos out explaining the revolving door between Big Pharma and the FDA. I want to take a listen, this is important, I want to take a listen to a clip where you sat down with Laurie Powell, a former medical brand strategist.

Laurie Powell:                     The thing about the FDA is the FDA, is, is not a full time, a career job. It’s a few years on the FDA and then they’re being courted by the pharmaceutical companies. You’ll have a Merck going in and saying to somebody on the FDA, oh, I’ll give you $600,000 if you’ll come and work on our regulatory committee to go, to go into bat for us with the FDA. And they’ll say, okay, well I’ll think about that. And then there’ll be like a Pfizer will come in and say, well, we’ll give you $800,000 a year to come in and work on our regulatory committee. And so, it becomes like a bidding war like that. So the FDA knows that their next jumping off point to go from a lower paying government job to being a very lucrative Pharma job on the inside, on the manufacturing side. They know that that’s part of their career path, so that I’m sure weighs heavily into their decision making process.

Mike Papantonio:             So Ben, it sounds like the loyalty of drug rate regulators ultimately goes to the highest bidder. Break this down. You’ve done such a spectacular job with these videos telling the story that, that corporate media refuses to tell, by the way. So break this down for us just a little bit, if you would.

Ben Swann:                           Well I think it makes a lot of sense to anybody who even is on the outside of this of how this would work, right? If you are government employee working for the FDA and you are sitting on these committees within the FDA essentially deciding which drugs are approved and which are not. And keep in mind, as you know, Mike it is like a a 10 year to 13 year process to get a drug approved.

It costs millions upon in some cases over $1 billion to get some drugs approved and so when you have that power you are easily and heavily courted by drug companies who come in and say, look, give us an easier time or let this drug through. And when you are done here at the FDA, we’ve got a cush plum spot waiting for you and you’ll be on our regulatory committee. Think about what that means.

You don’t have to design drugs, you don’t have to have any medical background. All you have to do is to help guide us through the process of getting more drugs approved in the future and we’ll pay you six hundred thousand, eight hundred thousand, a million dollars a year to sit on this committee. And what we find is that the FDA has been using their influence in their vast of money to influence regulators at the FDA.

It’s why so many drugs get approved in the first place, but there’s actually a bigger issue than just that. Once a drug is approved by the FDA, it is rarely ever reviewed after the fact and that means that once a drug gets through, there’s almost no one on the FDA side assigned to going back and saying, let’s take a look at drugs that were approved but now have side effects that are harmful and in some cases even deadly.

Mike Papantonio:             Ben, I’ve handled about 30 of the biggest pharmaceutical catastrophes in America. I’ve actually tried the cases taking the depositions, gone to trial and tried the case and the pattern that we see is, is evident. It is that you, this belief that the FDA is a regulator is a myth because as you point out, and I gotta tell you something, I know you’ve been a journalist a long time. This is, this is great work you’re doing here because the corporate media won’t tell this story.

And this is the story, that revolving door between corporate drug companies and the FDA has made it so impossible to get an objective view of whether or not a drug will kill you or not. That I tell people don’t even take a drug unless it’s been on the market for 10 years because the FDA has become so dysfunctional. And you’ve, you’ve spoken to physicians and you’ve written, you’ve looked at this, the funding of the FDA.

You’ve looked at all the parts. Is there any question that the FDA at this point has just become completely dysfunctional because the financial chokehold that takes place?

Ben Swann:                           No, I, I think there’s multiple things that have happened. You’re absolutely right. I mean, the FDA is, is completely dysfunctional in that respect. And it’s also starved in terms of funding. The requirements that have been put on the FDA by Congress in terms of the pressure to get new drugs approved at a faster rate versus the staffing they have. So if we want to give the FDA, you know, at least some credit, those who are working there, who maybe there are some people there who really do want to do a good job and, and make sure the drugs are safe, are terribly understaffed.

They don’t have the ability to be able to really monitor drugs carefully the way that they should. And as I said, and then after the fact, once something gets through, as you know, Mike, there are so many of these drugs that are off label drugs, right? Which essentially means that the drug is approved for one thing, but it’s being used and it’s being marketed by doctors after the fact for a totally different thing than it was approved for in the first place.

And that happens. These, these off label drugs are constantly being pushed by medical providers in this country. And the FDA has no process for going back and saying, wait a minute, this drug was approved for migraines, but now it’s being used for cosmetic use and one thing has nothing to do with the other. And so there is no process after the fact to go back and to clean that up.

Mike Papantonio:             Right, right. Let me say something that we’ll really should freak out the people watching this segment right now. They believe, okay, we can, we can agree, you and I can agree the FDA, if you’re counting on them for protection, forget it. They’re dysfunctional.

Ben Swann:                           Right.

Mike Papantonio:             So the next thing that comes to your mind, well, maybe the, maybe the media is there. As you may or may not know, I’ve done corporate media. I did it for about 18 years where I would be making, I’d be called in to give legal opinions. I’d be in the countdown, the short count, ten nine, eight, seven, five all the way down to the bottom. And then they tell me, Pap, you can’t do that segment because it was on a pharmaceutical company that was creating a drug that was killing people and the advertisers got so mad that we were going to do the segment that the media killed the segment. And I’m talking about drugs that actually have killed thousands of people. You’re familiar with this. Talk about it a little bit.

Ben Swann:                           Well, absolutely. I mean, keep in mind, about 10,000 people in the United States die of a prescription drug that they had been prescribed every single year in this country. Is that ever discussed in corporate media? It’s not. We know, you know, I know there are so many of these drugs that have had harmful deadly side effects, terrible side effects for pregnant women in birth defects in children. It happens on a regular basis. It gets zero coverage by corporate media and you don’t have to be a rocket science, scientist to figure out why.

If you turn on cable news, if you turn on just about any news channel in America today from local TV to national to cable news, you’re going to see in every commercial break, commercials being run by pharmaceutical companies. They are one of the largest advertisers nationwide for media. And so these media companies don’t want to do anything that’s going to upset one of the few industries that really props them up in terms of funding. Why would you make those people mad?

CNN is not going to do that. Fox News isn’t going to do that. So they don’t, and as a result of that, we cannot rely on corporate media to ever cover these stories because they are never going to risk that goose laying the golden egg.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah, we, we’re unaware of the influence they have. The political influence is overwhelming. The lobbying influence is off the charts. They are the number, I think number two lobbying influence in America, right? That’s behind the weapons industry by the way. So, so we have an industry that controls congress. They control basically the court system because of the way that, the way that they’ve helped lobbying, changing laws to make it very difficult for individuals, families of members who have been killed by med by, by pharmaceuticals to even make it to court.

So they control the, the, they control them, the, the court system in a big way. They certainly control the media who is right now we’re one of the, there’s only two countries in the, there’s only two countries in the world that allow this direct to consumer advertising, like we let these people do. We’re one of them. And so the media industry, if you’re waiting for them to do anything here, forget it. Talk about the influence, for example, Medicare For All. Right now they’re trying to change the law on Medicare For All that the, the drug industry is spending all the money here, aren’t they?

Ben Swann:                           Oh, absolutely. And, and, and again, to your point, I mean, you have such a lobbying effort being made by these pharmaceutical companies. And keep in mind one or the other kind of untalked about parts of this are the patents that go into a lot of these drugs. Now, pharmaceutical companies will say, you know, when we are in this process of, of creating a drug, it costs us so much money. The regulation and regulatory climate requires so much of us.

It’s expensive. It’s time consuming. We need to be able to protect our investment. Otherwise no drugs will ever be made. Mike, imagine what they’re saying. No drugs will ever be made if they’re not allowed to patent and hold onto a patent for 10 to 15 years on a particular drug and charge the price they want. It’s nonsense. We know it’s not true and it goes back to what you were saying about this, this Medicare For All idea, right, is to control every aspect of the process along the way.

From the development of a drug, protecting it once it’s out there, getting lobbyists in some cases or excuse me, lawmakers in some cases to require their drugs. It is, it is top down, top to bottom, manipulated and controlled on every single level. I’m, I’m appreciate you talking about it on your show because there are so few voices that will actually cover this story.

Mike Papantonio:             Ben, thanks for doing this. Please stay at it, man. This is real journalism and thank you for that and please keep it up. Thanks for joining me.

Ben Swann:                           Mike thanks. Thank you so much.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.