Drug Company research, can you trust any of it?

In the last couple of months the world’s largest drug company Glaxo Smith Kline was fined 3 billion US dollars. The fine was for promoting its best-selling antidepressant drugs (Paxil and Wellbutrin) for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data for its diabetes drug called Avandia.

Prosecutors in the case said the company had been influencing doctors with international holidays and other gifts in order to win them over. The goal is (of course) to have the doctors prescribe more of their drugs, rather than drugs owned by other companies.  Every time a case like this appears, in the United States at least, we, the consumers and patients, see more and more of where medicine is really going.  In New Zealand things have not yet reached this level, but drug companies still take doctors out for expensive lunches, to fill them in on the ‘latest research’.

Glaxo Smith Kline’s case is not alone; the list of drug company fines this year is likely to be some kind of a record. Abbot Laboratories was fined 1.6 billion, and Johnson and Johnson may also be fined 2 billion in the coming months due to their marketing of an antipsychotic drug (As reported in the New York Times). All of this is hot on the heels of Merck’s settlement of 5 billion US dollars a couple of years ago for its drug Vioxx, a drug that most patients used to help manage their arthritis pain. Vioxx is something of a standout case with an estimated death toll of around 60,000 people, earning Merck the gold for the highest death count. Think about that number for a second…60,000 dead is more than three times the official death toll in Syria. Usually when you hear of a death toll so large it is referring to something along the lines of genocide in Africa.

One of Glaxo Smith Kline’s drugs, Paxil (as with most antidepressants) has been linked to an increased risk of suicide in adolescents. That simple fact itself is so bizarre that it should make you question the very foundation of modern medicine. Common sense and integrity aside, the Hippocratic Oath that all doctors swear states ‘first do no harm’, so how then, could a drug that increases risk of suicide be given to depressed people?

My healthy cynicism aside, really, who can you trust? The truth is, that even the astonishing fines leveed against drug companies, which, in the case of Glaxo Smith Kline was less than 3% of its market value, are not a sufficient deterrent to stop them lying, cheating and conducting fraudulent research, sometimes resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of people. There are huge numbers of corrupt doctors and scientists involved, and studies have been published in medical journals over the years proving the research published by drug companies is biased. Recently, even the journals (who rely on the drug company business) have been reluctantly speaking out. If you want to read more on this topic, I recommend a book written by Dr Marcia Angel, former editor in chief of the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’,  she felt so strongly about the corruption that she published a book called ‘How drug companies lie to you, and what to do about it’. I haven’t the space to go into this in detail, but the list of fraudulent cons in this book is impressive. Dr Angel is a heavy hitter, having once been voted one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential people in the USA.

While most of this court action occurs overseas, the deaths occur here in NZ as well, as the same drugs are often sold (or were sold) in New Zealand.  Dr Wallace Bain, a trained lawyer and pharmacist, and in his capacity as ‘Acting Crown Coroner’, produced a report in 2006 stating that in 1998, 1,524 New Zealanders were killed by adverse reactions to pharmaceutical drugs. He also did an analysis of the supplement industry and could find zero deaths. For some reason 1998 is the last year that detailed statistics of the pharmaceutical death toll are available in New Zealand.

The average Kiwi does not have the time to investigate the drugs prescribed by their doctor, and most GP’s don’t have the time to investigate the claims made by the drug company sales reps. There are some very good GP’s out there who try and keep themselves informed, and there are some who believe everything that drug companies say.  My advice with pharmaceutical drugs is simple; the government will never stand up to drug companies, so you have to have to your own homework, and it may well save your life.

Daniel King MSc (hons)

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3 Responses to Drug Company research, can you trust any of it?

  1. Ranee says:

    A very good but scary article – like your article suggests you can not afford to trust the drug companies- I liken them to the oil companies- NOT TO BE TRUSTED!!

  2. Paul Brydon says:

    Spot on Daniel. There are many examples of drug companies fooling docs into believing their products are superior and safer. Take tPA for stroke, new anticoagulants and the statins to name a few. I believe most docs prescribe with good intent but are relying too much on heavily drug company funded research, the lowest quality of it all in my (and many others) opinion.

    Paul Brydon

  3. Dr No, MD PhD (Pharmacol) says:

    Yes, I do agree with you Mr. Daniel King about all these drugs being promoted by the drug companies to the medical profession with, as you say, expensive lunches and dinners thrown in in an up-class hotel where a brain-washing lecture by a medical consultant from the drug company showing ‘impressive’ clinical data to a gathering of doctors who were invited for the talk and dinner. Those dinners of course aren’t free of course. It has a hidden agenda. The drug company’s sales people will soon follow up these ‘free dinners’ with their aggressive marketing and their offers for free holidays overseas for the doctors and their family when the prescribed a certain targeted quantity of these patented ‘drug of choice’ to their helpless patients. This stragedy is well known by everybody, especially those in the medical profession and pharmaceutical industry, and even by well-informed patients in most countries. This has been going on for a few decades already and is not a new event.

    But the patient pays heavily with this commercialized medicine which benefits both the doctors and the drug company. It is a case of ‘I scratch your back, and you scratch mine’ Unfortunately the medical profession is hypnotized by the drug companies with ‘impressive lab, imaging, histo-pathological and clinical data’ They then become a puppet of these very powerful, influential and filthy-rich drug companies who effectively put them under their ‘scientific spell’because doctors only feed on a diet of scientific data of body chemistry, pathology and images and loses the patient as a person. They hardly spend time evaluating the causes of the disease, and teach the patient on the causes, and then treat the root causes and allow the body innate healing mechanisms to take over once the root causes are identified and removed. To the doctors, everything has to be drugs, and without drugs, the doctors cannot treat. The drug industry depends entirely on the medical profession to prescribe their products, and the doctors depend totally on the drug companies to supply them their drugs. Doctors are helpless trying to discover drugs and remedies on their own. They depend absolutely and completely on pharmaceutical chemists, research scientists and pharmacologists working in drug companies to do this. A lot of lab and clinical data are hidden by the drug companies. The helpless doctors do not know this. They are only interested in promoting and prescribing these drugs. Both work hand-in-glove with each other. There is no way out for the helpless patient. He has to pay to both. This is modern drug-based medicine being practiced today.

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