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01:988:413 Health Consequences in the Global Trade in Pharmaceuticals

Course Description

Thanks to the recent capers of the much-loathed pharma villain, Martin Shkrelli, as well as the fact that healthcare reform debates are heating up as presidential campaign season shifts into high gear, issues like the cost and availability of drugs are on everyone’s mind. We’ll begin this semester asking questions like why drugs in America cost so much, and why certain populations seem to have all their pharmaceutical needs met while, on the other hand, much needed drugs have yet to be developed for the sicknesses suffered by other groups. In the first section (roughly the first half of the semester), we’ll explore issues like how intellectual property law tends to promote pharmaceutical monopolies, how Big Pharma influences the decisions and practices of both patients and healthcare practitioners through high-powered marketing campaigns and an overly opaque clinical trials and regulatory approval processes, and how all of these dynamics affect the health and life prospects of individuals from different demographics in uneven, and often unequal, ways. In the second section of the class, we will broaden the scope of discussion beyond the sphere of pharmaceuticals strictly-defined to explore the wider meanings and roles of drugs in culture and society. How is the difference between a ‘medicine’ and a ‘drug’ historically and socially constructed, and what, in turn are the physical, mental, and political repercussions of this process? What is the nature of addiction, and how should patients, practitioners, and politicians address so-called ‘epidemics’ of drug use/abuse? What is the legacy of the War on Drugs and how does it intersect with wider patterns of health disparity, racial inequity, and socioeconomic inequality? After carefully considering these and other related questions, we will wrap up the semester with a concluding section where we will think about ways to fix the problems in the healthcare-pharmaceutical complex and remedy our troubled drug culture, all with an eye to improving individual health, ameliorating population health disparities, and decreasing social inequities and economic inequality.

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