November 23, 2011. Whitehouse Station, NJ. (ONN) When drug giant Merck agreed to plead guilty to illegally trafficking in illicit drugs, the nation’s second largest drug company lost its right to be called a pharmaceutical corporation. Instead, the powerful syndicate joins other international drug pushers like the Cali Cartel and Los Zetas in the column of soulless gangsters. They’ve each proven their single objective is to make as much money as possible illegally selling deadly and powerful drugs to America’s addicted and unsuspecting citizens.
Note handed to President Obama yesterday by Occupy protesters in New Hampshire. Phone courtesy of AP's Charles Dharapak.
The guilty plea by Merck not only closes a 12 year chapter in one of the most profitable illegal enterprises in American criminal history, but surprisingly, it also proves one of the many arguments that the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement is trying to make – corporations are above the law, even when they knowingly kill people, lots of people. For those addicted to prescription drugs, you can quit painkillers in an inpatient setting.
In 1999, drug giant Merck began selling its painkiller Vioxx. By 2003, the drug was the corporation’s third largest selling product. It was single-handedly generating $2.5 billion in sales per year. By 2004, Merck voluntarily pulled Vioxx off the market and ceased sales when large numbers of people began suffering from heart attacks and strokes after using the product. With the unusually large number of red flags – FDA complicity, billions in cash, epidemic addiction and usage, people dieing – US Attorneys in Boston launched what would be a seven year investigation of the criminal enterprise.
That criminal investigation culminated in an agreement by Merck to plead guilty to one misdemeanor criminal count and pay $949.9 million in fines and damages. $321.6 million will go to the government and $628.3 million to victims and their lawyers.
The question is, who exactly was convicted?
First, the $949 million dollar fine is only a sliver of the $2.5 billion dollars a year the conspiracy brought in through sales of the drug. Second, considering there was a criminal conviction, nobody was actually convicted. Some, including this author, wonder how this is either a punishment or a deterrent.
When the Catholic Church was found to have covered-up for pedophile priests, not only was the Church fined, individual perpetrators were put in prison. When companies are caught defrauding taxpayers with illegally obtained vendor contracts, the companies are fined and individuals go to jail. The same goes for virtually every organization, corporation or entity in America – because that’s how the American justice system works.
But as the recent Whiteout Press article ‘TIME Challenges Legitimacy of America’s Judicial Branch’ reveals, the American justice system doesn’t work. It’s for sale to the highest bidder and nobody has more money than America’s corporations. And just as not one single investment bank employee has gone to prison for their roll in the admittedly criminal acts that caused the global economic collapse beginning in 2008, neither has any Merck employee for their admitted crimes. Drug corporations now join big banks and oil companies in their elite and privileged position of being above the law.
Surprisingly, the criminal charges have absolutely nothing to do with all the victims who took Merck’s drug Vioxx and died as a result. The corporation had already greased the wheels of the Food and Drug Administration. And even while Americans were dieing from the product, the FDA continued to look the other way. It wasn’t until an independent study in 2004 showed the deadly effects of taking the drug that Merck pulled the product off the market.
Instead, the criminal charges and guilty plea are a result of Merck’s individual salesmen and women selling the painkiller Vioxx to doctors, clinics and pharmacies for uses other than what it was approved for. Most times, the charges involved Merck sales reps knowingly lieing about the benefits, dangers and uses of the drug in their conspiracy to push the drug on as many people as possible. Vioxx was being marketed as a cure-all, just like its nineteenth century snake oil counterpart. That’s a criminal act and Merck’s sales reps admitted to knowingly breaking the law. Illegally selling illicit drugs from one street corner pharmacy to the next is no different than selling xanax, vicodin or ecstasy five feet away on the very same street corner.
What makes Merck’s sales reps any different than the drug pushers without college degrees, selling their drugs which also happen to be manufactured by companies like Merck, Pfizer and other Wall Street giants?
When street-level drug pushers are busted, authorities often give them the opportunity to avoid criminal charge if they testify against higher-ups in the criminal organization. Then, those more powerful, dangerous and profiting shot callers go to prison. The same was supposed to be true in the Merck case.
When teams of Merck sales reps testified or gave statements affirming the fact that they knowingly broke the law by falsifying claims about the drug, they insisted that they only engaged in the criminal activity because they were ordered to by their supervisors within Merck’s management. They were well aware, the reps admit, that they were engaged in criminal activity. They also insist Merck’s managers knew it too.
But how do you arrest and imprison a corporation? In reality, Merck is nothing more than a piece of paper that reads, ‘Certificate of Incorporation’. You can’t handcuff a piece of paper or pepper spray it or put it in jail. And if not one person is held accountable for admitted and widespread criminal activity in which a large number of innocent victims lost their lives, how is that a punishment or a deterrent?
The world of illegal drug use is changing fast these days. Among illegally obtained substances, prescription pills have passed marijuana as America’s most abused drug. In fact, the CDC reports that more people are illegally abusing these pharmaceutical drugs than cocaine, heroin and ecstasy combined. Pills also account for more fatal overdoses than any other drug. In 17 states and growing fast, prescription pills are responsible for more accidental deaths than any other cause. And most alarming, prescription drugs have replaced marijuana as the main gateway drug to more dangerous addictions like cocaine and heroin.
CNN recently exposed the little-known illegal pharmaceutical crisis. "I don't think I have met anybody under the age of 30 that's a heroin addict that did not start out using oxycodone or OxyContin" Lt. Tom Coffey of the Massachusetts State Police told CNN. The network reporter agreed, “Indeed, every heroin addict I met while reporting in Massachusetts shared a similar journey: They began abusing Oxy and became addicted, and then the pills either became too expensive or unavailable. Instead of suffering through the pain of withdrawal, they turned to heroin as a substitute and never looked back.”
For male addicts, getting their next prescription drug fix can often be a bit of a challenge. Across America, in big cities and small towns alike, law enforcement officials are reporting an epidemic of petty crimes and pharmacy robberies, all carried out by desperate addicts willing to do anything to get their hands on the next round of pills. For women, illegally obtaining pills to satisfy their ever growing habit is as easy as finding one of the many doctors willing to trade prescriptions for money or sex.
"The news shouldn't be left wing or right wing, conservative or liberal. It should be the news. It should be independent" - Mark Wachtler, Whiteout Press founder
Doctors – the new street corner drug dealers
God only knows how widespread the illegal practice is of doctors selling and trading drug prescriptions for money and sex. The Justice Department refuses to investigate the widespread practice, opting instead to target and arrest legal medical marijuana dispensaries and arresting wheelchair bound veterans and cancer victims. Read the Whiteout Press article, ‘Feds Guilty of Marijuana Crime’ for details. The few facts available however, paint a disturbing picture.
In one blatant example, a Florida doctor was charged with prescribing as much of the painkiller oxycodone in one year as the entire state of California. Officials use Florida as an example because of its large senior population and its widespread pill mills. Like all criminals, doctors find seniors to be easy and gullible victims. Prescription pain killers are some of the most addictive substances known to man. And just as the street corner dealer gives the first sample free, knowing full well that the victim will be instantly addicted and back with money to buy more, big pharma companies conspiring with doctors have also incorporated the exact same practice. Pharmaceutical companies like Merck giving free drug samples to doctors, with the express instruction to give them free to patients as samples, is a decades old tactic of the big pharma companies.
The result – seven people a day die in Florida alone from taking pills. Other surprising facts – one in four women is currently taking anti-depressant drugs. Also, the anti-psychotic drugs that used to be prescribed only to schizophrenics have seen their use among regular Americans increase a staggering 350 percent in the past ten years – and that number doesn’t even include illegally obtained pills.
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At the same moment the Justice Department was announcing its settlement with Merck in which not one single guilty person would face charges, an Occupy Wall Street protester broke through the wall of security yesterday to hand President Obama a small note. Speaking at a high school in New Hampshire, the President read the small note. Captured by AP photographer Charles Dharapak, the note simply read:
“Mr. President: Over 4000 peaceful protesters have been arrested. While banksters continue to destroy the American economy. You must stop the assault on our 1st amendment rights. Your silence sends a message that police brutality is acceptable. Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.”
In another glaring example of why the mainstream media is no longer mainstream, pay special attention to news reports of this now-famous note. The actual wording uses the word ‘banksters’. A number of corporate media outlets, including the Yahoo News article we referenced, blatantly changed the word ‘banksters’ with ‘bankers’ in their reporting. Ever-protecting their corporate partners on Wall Street, America’s media has shown their true colors once again. Read the Whiteout Press article, ‘Mainstream Media not so Mainstream’ for even more outrageous examples.
The take-away from yesterday’s news about Merck’s admission of illegally pushing their pain killers, afflicted with deadly side effects no less, is that America has a drug problem that is out of control and shows no signs of slowing down. And unlike the harmless and often legal marijuana that the DEA focuses all of its resources on fighting, powerful politicians and Wall Street elites are getting rich addicting Americans en masse to these dangerous and deadly pills. Since corporations can’t be put in jail and the individual criminals at Merck responsible for the crimes are being protected from prosecution by the Justice Dept and the Obama administration, what’s America to do? Just don’t tell me to take two pills and call you in the morning. You too can quit painkillers in an inpatient setting.