NEW YORK—In the latest of an increasingly violent series of murders linked to international prescription drug trafficking, infamous Pfizer cartel leader Philip “El Loco” Cox was gunned down Thursday by rivals from the Bristol-Myers Squibb organization, the FBI has confirmed.
The 63-year-old Pfizer boss, who became the nation’s top pharma kingpin after the 2009 toppling of Wyeth ringleader Richard Russell, was reportedly shot five times in the chest by sales reps from Bristol-Myers Squibb, part of an ongoing turf war to control the lucrative pharmaceutical market.
“The murder of El Loco is a direct result of the escalating struggle over supply routes and territory between Pfizer and the Squibbs,” said FBI spokesman Jeff Lyons, using the nickname given to the rival cartel’s operatives, who allegedly woke Cox up in the middle of the night and killed him in front of his wife and children. “From lipid-lowering agents like Crestor to hard diabetes drugs like Avandia, everybody’s using this stuff, some of them as young as 35 or 40. The market’s worth billions, and it’s a bloody business.”
“Prescription drug traffickers are no longer just sending their reps into clinics to pressure doctors,” Lyons added. “Now they’re kidnapping the ones who don’t prescribe their product, decapitating them, and rolling their heads through hospital hallways.”
Thursday’s killing comes just days after the discovery of human remains belonging to Eli Lilly employees whose bodies had been viciously disfigured, disemboweled, and dumped in a mass grave outside Indianapolis. The corpses were reportedly only identifiable after authorities found a scrap of a polo shirt nearby bearing the cartel’s corporate insignia.
“El Loco” Cox’s murder is believed to have resulted from a long-running dispute over heart-medication distribution cells in the Northeast, where in the past year at least 500 people have been killed as the warring syndicates fight to push Lipitor and Pravachol, their rival products. However, the FBI told reporters that revenge might also have played a role.
“The bureau believes this assassination may have been ordered as an act of retaliation by the Fat Man himself,” said Lyons, referring to the notorious “pharmo” Doug Kirkendall, who is currently head of marketing at Bristol-Myers Squibb. “Last year, his wife was found hanging from a telephone pole and smeared with a prescription-only topical psoriasis cream—the signature threat of the Pfizer cartel.”
According to law enforcement officials, the blow to Pfizer could create an opening for the New Jersey–based Merck and Johnson & Johnson cartels to move in and expand their operations. Both groups have lately recruited more biochemical engineers, drug marketers, and family doctors into their ranks, with Merck burning down several Walgreens pharmacies in October following a pricing dispute.
Many experts have argued that responsibility for the violence ultimately lies with U.S. consumers, whose insatiable demand for designer drugs has made big pharma so incredibly profitable.
“Every time you go to your doctor demanding Concerta or Lunesta or once-daily Singulair, you’re fueling a dangerous $350 billion industry that kills thousands of innocent people each year,” said John Cotts, a Georgetown University sociologist who specializes in prescription-drug-related crime. “They’ve bought off the cops, they’ve bought off the politicians, and their power is growing every day.”
He added, “Just remember that the next time you visit a major pharmaceutical hub—maybe it’s San Diego, maybe it’s Raleigh-Durham—you may find yourself abducted, tortured, and thrown out of a moving car with the word ‘GlaxoSmithKline’ carved into your chest.”