A troubling new development in a long-running pharmaceutical scandal in France has people wondering just how much power drug companies wield in the country. The Guardian's Angelique Chrisafis reports that victims of a controversial (read: fucking dangerous) ampehtamine-derived weight-loss pill called Mediator have complained of delays in state compensation for damages won during an ongoing series of legal battles against the drug's manufacturer. Not only that, Louis Servier, the 90-year-old founder of the company that created Mediator, has been placed under formal investigation for manslaughter.
Mediator was initially marketed to overweight diabetics, but, accord to the Guardian, was also often prescribed to healthy women as an appetite suppressant. The French health ministry estimates that the drug has killed somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 people from heart-valve related damage, although some external studies claim that the casualty figure may in fact be closer to 2,000. Thousands more victims have come forward with claims of cardiovascular complications stemming from their Mediator use. All told, about five million people were prescribed the drug between 1976 and 2009, when the French government finally got wise and withdrew the drug from the market, years after it had been removed in Spain and Italy (neither the US nor the UK ever authorized its distribution).
The investigation of Servier for manslaughter might serve as a way to sap some of the power pharmaceutical companies wield in France, which, according to Dr. Irene Frachon, a researcher who helped reveal the dangers of Mediator in 1997, is distressingly huge:
It's [the manslaughter charge is] deeply symbolic because it means that victims have been identified. I still don't know if France has learned its lesson from this. France was very shaken, but the pharmaceutical structure and lobby is still very strong. Maybe a trial will help change that.
Dismantling that power structure may prove difficult even with a successful criminal trial. Servier is not far removed from a position of relative honor within the French power circles. Less than a year before Mediator was yanked from the market, he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur, country's highest honor, by his former lawyer, a diminutive fellow named Nicolas Sarkozy.
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