In May 18, 2000, Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, wrote an editorial, “Is Academic Medicine for Sale?”, which began:
One year later, in 2001, Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, editor of JAMA, wrote a similar editorial, “Reporting Financial Conflicts of Interest and Relationships Between Investigators and Research Sponsors.” It began:
Almost echoing Dr. Angell, Dr. DeAngelis continued: “Since 1985, The Journal has requested authors to disclose financial interests related to the subject matter of their research and since 1989 has required authors to submit signed financial disclosure statements.”
Thus, the editors of two of the most prestigious medical journals in America, acknowledged several years ago that financial ties between Big Pharma and medical researchers has been a problem since the 1980s. Both editors were firm in their conviction that researchers must, at the very least, disclose their financial connections to Big Pharma.
Yet, over time, the problem has only gotten worse, with John Abramson, MD, and Barbara Starfield, MD, writing in the September–October 2005 edition of the Journal of the American Board of Family Practice (“The Effect of Conflict of Interest on Biomedical Research and Clinical Practice Guidelines: Can We Trust the Evidence in Evidence-Based Medicine?”)
Drs. Starfield’s and Abramson’s obvious message here is that you can't trust what you read about clinical trials – especially when the results of the trial favor the drug being “studied.”
One would think, with all the articles (and books, too) being published, that things would have gotten better by now. However, what we have now, three years later, is a situation that has actually escalated, as Robert Steinbrook, MD, acknowledges in his August 7, 2008 NEJM “perspectives” piece, “Disclosure of Industry Payments to Physicians”:
Today, it is common practice that, instead of disclosing financial ties to drug companies, these ties are more cleverly hidden. In addition to funding the trials and dictating how the results will turn out, pharmaceutical companies also hire marketing company employees to write the “scholarly articles” that are published in the medical journals. Big-name researchers are then paid to affix their names to the articles. According to Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, in her article, “The Corporate Coauthor,” this is how it works:
And Dr. Abramson writes in his excellent book, Overdosed America:
Both Dr. Abramson's book, and Melody Petersen’s Our Daily Meds, describe this ghostwriter/co-author phenomenon in great detail; both books should be on every doctor’s reading list. (The subtitle of Ms. Peterson's book, by the way, is: "How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs.")
Then, in April, 2008, JAMA itself published two articles and an editorial; all three pieces exposed this ghostwriting phenomenon, as it related to Merck’s so-called “clinical trials,” and the ghostwritten journal articles about Vioxx.
But, it seems that, this time, JAMA’s editors had had enough. The journal itself sent out a video news release (VNR) -- a polished video, ready for airing on television stations nationwide -- which it distributed to media outlets throughout the country. A majority of TV stations aired it. You may view the VNR by going to JAMA's website, here, and read the video transcript here:
And yet, curiously, many practicing physicians still seem not to be aware of these exposés, even those that have been published in their own journals. Many naively hold onto the belief that, when they prescribe pharmaceutical treatments, these treatments will be safer than the four treatments I wrote about in my most recent postings,"Four Lifesaving Medical Treatments: Not So 'Anecdotal,' After All," and "Why Calling Lifesaving Treatments 'Anecdotal' Keeps Doctors From Being More Curious."
Why do doctors believe these pharmaceutical treatments are safer for their patients than are the so-called “anecdotal” treatments I described? Because, they tell us, the pharmaceutical treatments are backed up by the clinical trials -- the very same “standard of care” studies that so often have the financial connections described in the articles, editorials and videos included above.
Between 2001, when Dr. DeAngelis’ editorial was written, and the present, there have also been many books on the topic, and literally hundreds of articles have appeared in both professional and lay publications. The articles have been so numerous, so constant and so consistent in their message, that it would seem difficult for doctors to ignore them. In addition to the NEJM and JAMA, articles on the topic of financial malfeasance have also appeared in (to name just a few) The British Medical Journal, The Guardian, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. I name these particular high-readership, high-intellect publications, to drive home the point that one would have to be an almost total non-reader to have missed the nearly omnipresent discussion of this topic.
So, just in case I am correct in my suspicion that many doctors simply have not read these books or articles, I have compiled a list of 37 articles, from 2005 to the present, complete with hyperlinks and selected passages.
I have also created a pdf version of this list, which you are welcome to download and share with your doctor, the next time he (or she) is hesitant about, or fails to be interested in, reading information you have put together about a promising non-pharmaceutical treatment you would like to consider. These articles will be eye-opening for both you and your doctors.
I realize that many, many patients now self-medicate with holistic treatments, without telling their doctors. This is a fact. While I can certainly understand why this is true, given the fact that many doctors (including several of my husband Tim’s) react negatively to questions about non-pharmaceutical treatments, there are some cases, especially when a patient has a serious illness, when it is crucial to have your doctors’ cooperation. For instance, if you have multiple sclerosis or lupus, and want to try Low Dose Naltrexone, you’ll need a doctor’s prescription, even though LDN was approved by the FDA in 1984 at 10 to 20 times the dose recommended for these off-label conditions.
I am hopeful that these articles (with hyperlinks) will help patients and doctors to be better informed about how Big Pharma influences our doctors’ treatment choices.
In closing, I’d like to suggest that we find another term, less pejorative than “anecdotal,” to use when we refer to credible, non-pharmaceutical treatments like those I've been writing about before. In fact, perhaps, we should come up with new terms to describe both kinds of medical treatments.
2) Pharmaceutical Evidence-Based Medicine, to describe treatments whose evidence has been provided to the FDA by pharmaceutical companies, which have also funded the studies.
The reason I feel that it is important that both of these new terms contain the words, “evidence-based,” is that doctors and medical journals respect this term, and use it in a positive sense to signify that the treatments they recommend have gone through a certain level of science-based study/trials. Unfortunately, as more and more people are now realizing, a startling percentage of these trials rely on “evidence” provided and funded by Big Pharma. It’s time we started analyzing the “evidence” more objectively. It’s also time we started respecting evidence provided by patients, especially if the same evidence is provided by hundreds, or even thousands, of patients.