Friday, July 29, 2005

Medical Society, Magazine Split Over Drug Company Influence

Medical societies like the American Medical Association and their journals have a history of influence by Big Pharma, often forwarding their own agenda (read that as Big Pharma's agenda) without regard for the opinions or best interests of individual physicians who make up the society they represent, much less the best interests of the general public. For half a century or more the agenda of the AMA was not closely aligned with the interests of doctors at all, but was intent on pushing surgical/pharmaceutical medicine as a monopoly, trying to push out by whatever means necessary any other type of help for health problems.

But in an interesting twist, the American Society of Hypertension, which represents docs that specialize in handling high blood pressure, is splitting with its journal, the American Journal of Hypertension, pulling its official support for the magazine. Why? Because the magazine is accusing the Society of being a Big Pharma sycophant, accepting drug company payoffs to promote drug solutions, presumably to the exclusion of non-drug solutions.

This is indeed a new phenomenon.

It's hard to tell the whole story from the outside, but it appears we have a magazine and its editor that wants to put in ethics on its group and has gotten into a fight over it.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Journal's Editor Dr. John Laragh, a researcher at Cornell University's Weill Medical College, has accused the society's leaders of being improperly influenced by financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry and becoming, in essence, marketers for drug companies, which pay them consulting and speaking fees.

Hmmm. It might not mean a lot. But it is part of a mounting body of evidence of a tear in the straitjacket Big Pharma has on the medical community. One of these days the straitjacket is going to come off. Big Pharma's days as an ethics-free power hungry industry that seeks social domination through the promulgation of drugs, whether they are needed or not, and whether or not they represent the best solution in all cases, is slowly coming to an end. It's not yet time to sell Lilly stock short, but it's certainly no time to buy it.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Psycho-Sadists Running Mental Institution In California

Here -- you read it. I don't think I could say it any better than this Associated Press writer...

By KIM CURTIS The Associated PressThursday, July 28, 2005; 8:55 PM

SAN FRANCISCO -- Patients at a state mental hospital overdosed on illegal drugs, were improperly restrained for hours on end and were forced to spend 12 hours in soiled diapers, according to a scathing report issued by the U.S. Justice Department.

The report said the problems were among "widespread and systematic deficiencies" at Napa State Hospital, including suicide and inadequate medical care. Some patients were bathed only very two to four weeks, the report said.

State officials were given until Aug. 15 to implement "minimum remedial measures" at the mental hospital, which has about 1,100 patients.

Lupe Rincon, a hospital spokeswoman, said many allegations were based on inaccurate information from family members, advocates and old surveys. But she said she could not respond to specific complaints.

"Releasing further information could compromise our negotiations for a settlement agreement" with the Justice Department, she said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office had no response to the report, contained in a June 27 letter to him, and directed inquiries to the state Department of Mental Health.

The Justice Department investigation began in January 2004. The California Department of Mental Health has refused to cooperate, repeatedly preventing access to the facility, said the letter from Bradley J. Schlozman, acting assistant attorney general. A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Department of Mental Health spokeswoman Kirsten Macintyre said Thursday the department did not deny access, but simply asked for a delay because an investigation is "a huge diversion of resources" and because time and money was already being spent on preparing for the hospital's reaccreditation, which takes place this fall.

"I'm not saying we're perfect on patient care," said Macintyre, who added that the department already has improved some of its problem areas. "But you have to present things in a fair light."
The report also said that hospital staff punished patients who sought release, failed to provide English interpreters and refused to intervene during violent episodes among patients.

Three patients also overdosed on methamphetamine or cocaine in the fall of 2004 and one died, according to the report. Three other patients were able to use heroin, the report said.

Restraints and seclusion also are overused at Napa, according to the Justice Department. The report cited one patient who was restrained for 369 consecutive hours.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Eli Lilly and Prozac Dirty Tricks

Nobody begrudges a profit to individuals and companies that produce and sell the things we need and want – least of all this author. I do what I do best, and sell it to you. You do what you do best and sell it to me. We both make a profit, and we use that profit to buy what we need.

But when the profit motive assumes more importance than ethics, we have a damaging aberration – like cancer cells that grow much like normal cells, except they’re out of control and they don’t know when to quit – until they kill the organism.

One organism that’s about to be swallowed up in its own cancerous appetite for money is Big Pharma. This industry is the Robber Baron business of this century – much like the financiers who earned that title by ripping off Americans a hundred years ago.

Perhaps the reason the dark side of this activity is so hard to confront is because like cancer, it doesn’t make sense. Why would major pharmaceutical corporations, already among the world’s richest industries, want more and more even at the expense of human life; without regard for the consequences?

Increasingly, drug companies aren’t just selling cures. They’re also marketing disease, according to Bradford Plumer in the most recent edition of Mother Jones. The result is accelerating health care costs, and the primary beneficiary of this increased outlay is Big Pharma and the medical support structure that supports it.

But don’t confuse this with the medical doctors who work in this system. They aren’t getting the money. In fact, doctors make less and less and are being sued more and more – creating a shortage of physicians, actually, as young people enter the medical profession at startlingly decreasing rates. Hospitals are importing doctors from foreign countries to fill their needs, and still don’t have enough. This works in the favor of Big Pharma. They don’t need doctors. Doctors might cure something. Big Pharma would rather have patients who need pills – lots of them, and ongoing, with no end in sight. A quick prescription takes no time at all for a harried doctor. Instead of examining a kid to see whether he is diabetic or hypoglycemic or underslept or allergic, a quick slip of paper and he’s out the door. The pay to the doctor is the same. But Big Pharma gets a drug addict with a habit sanctioned by and supported by the state. That’s worth a lot of money. And if the people at Big Pharma have any trouble sleeping nights, they have a drug for that too.

The craziest practice is the contorted procedures drug companies go through to save a profit that would be lost at the end of a patent period when a drug goes generic. The Plumer story in Mother Jones describes how Big Pharma handles this situation with a damaging subterfuge we all pay for. An example is Prozac. The patent for Prozac was expiring in 1998. Woops! There goes a lot of profit! But wait – if the drug were found to be useful for handling some disease other than the one it was originally marketed for, it would be eligible for an extended patent period!!

What happens after that sound like something from Saturday Night Live. If Peter Sellers were alive today it would be a quaint English movie – something in the Inspector Clousseau vein. Imagine Sellers working the boardroom. “We need a new disorder. I need ideas here!”

“We need a psychological disease, something that doesn’t presently exist and something that can’t be proven scientifically,” says one wizened advisor. “Why would that be?” says the new kid who just ascended to the board because of his family connections.

“Don’t be silly!” says the older man, “If we call it a mental disease, then nobody can argue with us! There’s no way to prove anything! So they will take us at our word. If we name a real illness that can be scientifically proven, we will then have to scientifically prove that Prozac cures it. Prozac doesn’t actually cure anything, so that option is out.”

The end of the story (this part is not satire, it’s actually true) is that Lilly dug up a controversial new disease nobody had ever heard of, and drummed up interest in it until it became a legitimate accepted condition, then said the drug solved it – and extended their cash cow patent. Read the story. It’s fantastic.

But it doesn’t stop there. What do you do when you need some “authority” for a story in a large respected medical publication? You plant the story in little insignificant medical publications, then you quote those publications as sources for the story in the big influential publication. The American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association were doing this regularly in the 1950s when they were on a rampage attacking medical practices that fell outside their purview, such as Chiropractics. Huge lawsuit recoveries were made toward the end of the century when this sleazy practice finally caught up with them. But the drug companies still do it.

A question arises about whether there are unacceptable side effects to the drug when it is used for this newly discovered unprovable condition? All you have to do is plant a story in some small medical magazines saying that the fears are unfounded, then in the big magazine you publish that articles in many small magazines report that the fears are unfounded. It’s beyond fantastic.

There is more about this incredible business in the book Selling Sickness by Moynihan and Cassels.

It’s time to look at the ethics of Big Pharma. And it’s time to hold their feet to the fire. It’s time to say, “You made plenty of money ethically. Now you’ve been making excess profits. And they’re not excess because they are too much money, they’re excess because they’re being made unethically, on the backs of people who are being treated for non-existent diseases, and whose lives are damaged or ruined by the use of drugs that have extreme and violent side effects, including increased likelihood of homicide and suicide and real addiction that makes getting off them more difficult, in the opinion of some, than kicking heroin.

The lawsuits are accelerating. That’s good. But when do we start talking criminal responsibility? How many people have to die before some individuals are guilty of manslaughter?