The New York Times looks at three books that basically focus on the same thing – how we’ve been co-opted into believing that there is “a pill for every ill” by billion dollar drug companies, which bolster favorable opinion from leading medical authorities by greasing the wheels.
Much of the whistle blowing about these prevailing conflicts of interest has been uncovered by Sen. Charles Grassley, (R-IA) who as ranking member of the committee on Finance, has been exposing the tens of billions that covertly and seamlessly are offered to academics by drug companies trying to create a blockbuster drug.
The media has been picking up on these stories, including IB News reporting on Dr. Joseph Biederman, the man considered most responsible for the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders and children and in the recommendations of powerful antipsychotics; and Dr. Charles Nemeroff, psychiatrist with Emory University’s department, who touted the wonders of several drugs by GlaxoSmithKline while taking money from the company. Emory found violations of its own policies after $500,000 was allegedly under reported by Nemeroff.
This extensive book review and background on the ethics of medicine is written for the New York Times by Marcia Angell, whose 2005 book, The Truth About Drug Companies, (Random House), explains how a huge portion of the revenue generated by "Big Pharma" goes not into research and development but into aggressive marketing campaigns to sell their product.
She also signed on with other medical editors, as a friend of court of Diana Levine in her trial against Wyeth.
So a little light reading to begin your new year.
Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial, by Alison Bass, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 260 pp., $24.95
Alison Bass is formerly a reporter for the Boston Globe and her book follows three people –a skeptical academic psychiatrist, a New York assistant attorney general, and an outraged administrator from Brown University’s department of psychiatry, who all struggled for many years with GlaxoSmithKline before it agreed to settle charges of consumer fraud in 2004 for $2.5 million over Paxil.
The legal discovery process leading up to the settlement also revealed how GSK suppressed unfavorable research results.
Previously undisclosed, one of GlaxoSmithKline's internal documents said, "It would be commercially unacceptable to include a statement that efficacy had not been demonstrated, as this would undermine the profile of paroxetine [Paxil].”
Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs, by Melody Petersen, Sarah Crichton/Farrah, Straus and Giroux, 432 pp., $26.00
Peterson, formerly of the New York Times, reports on how medical conditions are promoted with new or exaggerated names – “gastro-esophageal reflux disease” GERD or “erectile dysfunction,” ED, is largely a strategy of drug marketers, trying to capture the largest audience.
How do drug companies create “blockbuster” drugs? With high-profile opinion makers, usually academic experts, she writes, who put their names on articles extolling Neurontin for example, and by funding conferences at which these uses are promoted.
Pfizer eventually pleaded guilty to illegal marketing and agreed to pay $430 million in the marketing of Neurontin, a case that Peterson covered for the Times.
Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness, by Christopher Lane, Yale University Press, 263 pp., $27.50; $18.,00 (paper)
Lane reports on the increasing number of psychiatric diagnoses and the use of drugs to treat them. Lane is a research professor at Northwestern University, who notes that psychiatry is fertile field for creating new mental conditions.
Lane tracks the early days of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which most psychiatrists refer to, from its beginnings in 1952 as a small, spiral-bound handbook, to a 943-page “bible” of psychiatry used by doctors, emergency rooms and medical facilities of all kind.
Shyness is one example used. Shyness became “social phobia” in 1980, and by 1994 was “social anxiety disorder,” now extremely common for which there was a drug, GSK’s Paxil.
To improve the ethics of the drug industry, Sen. Grassley has introduced the Physician Payments Sunshine Act to require manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices with annual revenues of more than $100 million, to disclose the amount of money they give to physicians, in any form including vacations and consulting fees. #