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The pharmaceutical industry theme song may be Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation.”

Of 25 different business sectors, only the federal government is held in lower esteem by most Americans, according to a recent Gallup Poll. What’s more, the pharmaceutical industry last year registered its worst showing in the 16 years that Gallup has been tracking how different sectors are perceived.

To be specific, just 28 percent of Americans have a positive view of drug makers, while 19 percent reported feeling neutral and 51 percent have a negative view. This led Gallup to calculate that the pharmaceutical industry actually has a “net positive” rating of negative 23. Yes, drug makers are perceived so badly that Gallup must use tortured language to describe its results.


The findings are not all that surprising. There may be a steady stream of stories about new medicines that are producing unprecedented patient outcomes in tackling such hard-to-treat diseases as cancer and hepatitis C. But the ongoing controversy over the cost of prescription drugs may be overshadowing many of the advances made by the pharmaceutical industry.

And consider this — the results, which were released on Aug. 15, were based on a telephone survey taken between Aug. 3 and Aug. 7, of 1,032 adults, ages 18 and older. This was before the pricing flap over EpiPen caused the latest frenzy. It’s not hard to imagine that the pharmaceutical industry would have registered an even lower rating if the poll had been taken, say, last week.


Only five sectors, in fact, registered so-called negative net positive ratings. The negative 27 notched by the federal government was the worst. Also faring poorly were lawyers and oil companies, although they are not as despised as much as drug makers. The third lousiest rating, by the way, went to the health care sector, which includes hospitals and health plans, with a negative 20.

By contrast, most of the 25 sectors included in the survey — such as banking, sports, airlines, automobiles, travel, and retailing — all registered genuine net positive ratings in which most Americans view these industries much more favorably than negatively. Americans must love to eat out, by the way, because restaurants had the highest rating, followed by the computer industry.

In case you were wondering, the last time the pharmaceutical industry came close to registering such negative views was back in 2005 and 2009. Those low points may have reflected safety scandals. In 2004, Merck withdrew its Vioxx painkiller due to cardiovascular risks and amid questions about the extent to which side effect data had been properly reported.

And in 2009, a similar issue plagued many drug makers that sold antidepressants, which were the subject of protracted debate over whether the pills could lead to suicidal behavior. The topic played out for nearly two years and was the subject of a widely publicized and contentious panel meeting held by the US Food and Drug Administration, which later issued warnings.

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