Pharmageddon: The Drug Industry's Grip on Our Health and Lives
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Healy: Without access to the raw drug data, medical professionals cannot practice responsible medicine and guidelines cannot be written. Yet Pharma, with very few exceptions, refuses to publish the data and share them with practitioners. This result is guidelines that are fictions and doctors who lack critical information they need to prescribe and treat.
Rosenberg: Pharma’s stonewalling of data and use of ghostwriters has resulted in articles in major medical journals that made Vioxx, hormone therapy and Neurontin look safe when they weren’t. Another example you give is a paper in the Journal of the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in which GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has made the antidepressant Paxil look safe by hiding raw data. Then editor, Mina Dulcan, says about the missing data, which hid Paxil’s suicidal side effect in children, “I can’t control the authors. No, I don’t have regrets.”
Healy: If we were getting our drug information from the New York Times instead of medical journals, we would all be a lot safer. When the Times reporter Jayson Blair was found to have fabricated stories, he was history. But the editors and writers involved with journal fraud still have their jobs and the articles are not even retracted. In fact, Liz Wager, the chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) is herself Pharma linked.
[Ed note. The COPE site says, "Liz provides writing, editing, training and consultancy services for various pharmaceutical companies (most recently Astra Zeneca, Cephalon, Cordis, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, Janssen-Cilag, Merck Serono, Mundipharma, Norgine, Novo Nordisk, Sanofi Pasteur and Vifor). ]
Rosenberg: Many conflicts of interest in your book, including COPE’s leadership, are structural and create a closed loop of misinformation, especially because of the money that Pharma wields. How can sunlight and transparency ever break through?
Healy: Some colleagues and I are in the process of fine-tuning a free web site that offers FDA MedWatch data with other crucial dug information but gets people affected by treatment to report in detail for perhaps the first time. The site, called RxISK.org, also helps patients file an adverse event report to US and Canadian authorities, with other countries to follow. For too long, patients, doctors and pharmacists have been isolated from each other when they encounter adverse drug events and only Pharma’s messages get out. This will help them communicate directly.
Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health , has just been released by Prometheus books.