Lessons from Corporate Influence in the Opioid Epidemic: Toward a Norm of Separation

There is overwhelming evidence, writes Jonathan Marks in Bioethical Inquiry,  that the opioid crisis—which has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars (and counting)—has been created or exacerbated by webs of influence woven by several pharmaceutical companies. Opioid companies built these webs of health professionals, patient advocacy groups, medical professional societies, research universities, and others as part of corporate strategies of influence that were designed to expand the opioid market from cancer patients to larger groups of patients with acute or chronic pain. Governments, the academy, and civil society need to develop counterstrategies to insulate themselves from corporate influence and to preserve their integrity and public trust. These strategies require a paradigm shift—from partnerships with the private sector, which are ordinarily vehicles for corporate influence, to a norm of separation.

Racism, Capitalism, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and Public Health: Tracing the Connections to Inform Strategy


As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds at the same time as more people in the United States protest manifestations of systemic racism than at any time in the past, public health activists ask how they can respond to these threats to health and health equity.  One way is to explore more fully the connections between systemic racism, defined by NAACP President Derrick Johnson as systems and structures that disadvantage African Americans, and modern capitalism, the global economic and political system that seeks to maximize business profits and increase business control of our economy, society and government.  Two recent articles explore these connections. 

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Addressing Commercial Determinants of Health Begins with Clearer Definition and Measurement

In an editorial in Global Health Promotion, Kelley Lee and Nicholas Freudenberg call for a clearer and more precise definition of “commercial determinants of health” and new approaches to assessing its influence on the global distribution of health and diseases. Such an approach, they argue, will lead to better understanding of the complex pathways between commercial determinants of health and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), now the leading cause of the global burden of disease and a key driver of health inequities. It will also provide evidence that can expand public health interventions from their current focus on individual and behavioral risk factors to the systemic and structural influences on NCD prevalence and distribution.

Commercial Influence and COVID-19

In an editorial in BMJ, Ray Moynihan and colleagues describe some of the ways that commercial actors have influenced assessment of the antiviral remdesivir and the heavy involvement of  Gilead, the maker of the drug, in designing the trials and  promoting the findings of its studies before peer review. Remdesivir is used to treat COVID-19 and Gilead will reportedly charge more than $3,100 to treat a typical COVID-19 patient with private health insurance.

The authors also cite a Call to Action circulated by BMJ calling for more independence from commercial influences in medical research, practice and education.  Almost 500 health professionals from around the world have already signed. 

Poisoning for Profit: Regulatory Rollbacks, Public Health, and State-Facilitated Corporate Crime


A core policy goal of the Trump administration has been rolling back or weakening regulations designed to protect workers, consumers, the environment, and general public health from known corporate harms. In a  new report in the Journal of White Collar and Corporate Crime, Raymond Michalowski and  Meredith Brown at Northern Arizona University argue that these rollbacks constitute the most far-reaching effort to free corporate capital from regulatory restraint since the onset of corporate regulation at the dawn of the 20th century.

Continue reading Poisoning for Profit: Regulatory Rollbacks, Public Health, and State-Facilitated Corporate Crime

Do Food Company Corporate Responsibility Initiatives Contribute to Promotion of Unhealthy Food to Children?

A new report in BMC Public Health  examines the physical activity and nutrition-related corporate social responsibility initiatives of food and beverage companies in Canada and their implications for exposing children to unhealthy food messages. Based on a review of documents and websites of 39 large Canadian  food companies, Ariana Kent Guo and her colleagues at the School of Public Health and Epidemiology at the University of Ottawa concluded that food companies, including many that largely sell and market unhealthy products, are heavily involved in physical activity and nutrition-related CSR initiatives in Canada, many of which are targeted to children.  The authors recommend that government policies aimed at protecting children from unhealthy food marketing should consider including CSR initiatives that expose children to food company branding.

COVID-19, Capitalism and Public Health: What are the connections? Part 3

The Consequences of Neoliberalism in the Current Pandemic

In the International Journal of Health Services, Vicente Navarro analyzes how neoliberal policies, imposed by many governments on both sides of the North Atlantic, weakened the capacity of the response to the coronavirus pandemic in Italy, Spain, and the United States. Another report,  COVID-19 Exposes the Destructive Legacy of Neoliberalism, prepared by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left is  also available. Read more

The COVID-19 Corporate Response Tracker: How America’s Largest Employers Are Treating Stakeholders Amid the Coronavirus Crisis

The coronavirus and economic crises have created an opportunity for CEOs and corporate leaders to put purpose-driven leadership and stakeholder capitalism into practice. In the last few years, many corporate leaders have urged a move from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism.  Just Capital created this Tracker – starting with America’s 100 largest public employers – to help assess what’s happening on the ground. Read more

How Capitalism and Racism Hold Back a COVID-19 Cure

COVID-19 has swept the world without any proven treatment or vaccine, writes Neal Sweeney in Liberation.  Around 100 potential vaccines and 250 antiviral drugs are undergoing testing, but it is not clear when these will be approved for human use. While the realities of vaccine development are undeniable — vaccines are extensively tested before proven both effective and safe — much of the blame lies with capitalism.  Read more

Continue reading COVID-19, Capitalism and Public Health: What are the connections? Part 3

Predatory Marketing of Unhealthy Food Contributes to Disparate Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color

Several new studies point to obesity itself as a significant risk factor for being hospitalized with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Young adults with obesity appear to be at particular risk, studies show. One way that the food industry has contributed to high rates of obesity and diet-related diseases among vulnerable populations is by targeted and predatory marketing of obesogenic products to vulnerable populations

Continue reading Predatory Marketing of Unhealthy Food Contributes to Disparate Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color

Progressive Public Health Organizations Respond to COVID-19

Around the world, public health and social justice activists are responding to the epidemic in ways that meet immediate needs but also strengthen movements that can create alternatives to the economic and social policies that contributed to the spread of the coronavirus.  Here are three such efforts:

Mapping Business Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The NCD Alliance(NCDA) and the SPECTRUM research consortium collaborated to conduct an online survey. The aim of the survey is to collect examples of activities undertaken or presented by businesses as a response to the COVID-19 crisis. Read more

Health Equity Policy Platform for COVID-19 Response and Recovery

Human Impact Partners  releases  a cross-sector policy platform that, if implemented, could begin to protect the people and communities bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more

People’s Health Movement Chapters Respond to COVID-19

The People’s  Health Movement,  a global network that brings together grassroots health activists, civil society organizations and academic institutions from around the world, has posted 16 statements from People’s Health Movement chapters around the world, analyzing the social determinants of COVID-19 in their nation, suggesting actions to mitigate its impact, and calling for governments to act.  Read more

Continue reading Progressive Public Health Organizations Respond to COVID-19