Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Doctors and Drug Firms

Under the Influence — Doctors and Prescription Drug Firms

American Association for Health Freedom, October 14, 2008.

Today's news, both political and financial, is filled with tales of greed and corruption. Vested interests ensure that earmarks litter important legislation. The lust for a quick profit and lax regulation have led to bank closures. Wall Street and Capitol Hill are now awash in finger-pointing by consumers whose investments are worth a fraction of their previous value.

It should come as no surprise, then, that congressional hearings have focused lately on drug manufacturers' conflicts of interest. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee, is leading an investigation into the financial relationships between pharmaceutical companies and the scientists who research their products.

Additionally, Sen. Grassley has pointedly asked questions of the FDA regarding drug approval in the wake of concern that vested interests compromise the safety of Americans who use these drugs. As you know, AAHF is actively involved in a campaign to reform the FDA.

Drug companies spend $29.9 billion annually to promote prescription drugs. Fourteen percent of that astronomical figure comprises direct-to-consumer drug ads. The remaining 86%, or $25.7 billion, is spent on influencing the prescribing habits of physicians. Studies from the Kaiser Foundation indicate that a 10% increase in advertising is tied to a 1% increase in sales.

Sen. Grassley is now pressing the National Institutes of Health to get tougher on universities that don't disclose financial ties to industry. He raised particular concerns about Harvard, Stanford, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Texas, where researchers working on NIH-funded studies are also on the payroll of drug companies.

The flack around this issue created a stir within NIH itself with the revelation that NIH scientists had failed to acknowledge financial ties to drug companies. And now twenty universities have been contacted by the Senate Finance Committee regarding questions of potential conflict of interest with drug companies.

According to author Dick Morris in his book Outrage, 90% of continuing medical education is paid for by prescription drug firms. Jerome Kassirer, M.D., former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, speaks passionately of his disdain for his colleagues who "become paid prostitutes for drug companies." His book On the Take offers facts and figures on how the drug companies' dollars have tainted clinical practice.

And John Abramson, M.D., in his book Overdosed America, chronicles his personal decision to leave clinical practice to expose the vested interests that have colored private practice, research, medical school education, and medical journal publication. He shows how drug companies have been instrumental in creating the "new normals for cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose" as well as creating "new diseases" like restless leg syndrome and social anxiety disorder.

In response, Eli Lilly has announced that beginning next year it will disclose payments of more than $500 to doctors for their roles as advisors and for speaking at educational seminars. While some states already have disclosure laws for payments from drug companies to doctors, none of them require the disclosure of payments from medical device makers.

One of this nation's biggest medical device makers, Medtronic, is the target of an investigation by Sen. Grassley regarding its spinal devices unit's relationship with doctors who use its spinal repair implants. And a lawsuit has been brought by a former Medtronic attorney alleging that Medtronic gave surgeons a variety of incentives to use or prescribe its products.

Conventional medicine shines in technology and in emergency care, particularly for injuries. But more and more consumers would rather see an integrative doctor if they are sick. AAHF supports physicians who risk their medical license to bring the very best medicine to their patients. Our mission is to ensure your health freedom and that of your physicians.

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