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Drug Company Disguised Advertising As Science 172

ananyo writes "A former pharmaceutical company employee has blown the whistle on drug promotion disguised as science. Drug companies occasionally conduct post-marketing studies to collect data on the safety and efficacy of drugs in the real world, after they've been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 'However,' writes the anonymous author in an editorial in the British Medical Journal (subscription required), 'some of the [post-marketing] studies I worked on were not designed to determine the overall risk:benefit balance of the drug in the general population. They were designed to support and disseminate a marketing message.' According to the whistleblower, the results of these studies were often dubious. 'We occasionally resorted to "playing" with the data that had originally failed to show the expected result,' he says. 'This was done by altering the statistical method until any statistical significance was found.' He adds that the company sometimes omitted negative results and played down harmful side effects. Nature says it was unable to work out who the writer was but they likely worked on diabetes and the studies criticized were from the Denmark-based pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk."
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Drug Company Disguised Advertising As Science

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  • by Brewster Jennings ( 2642639 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:08PM (#40311123)
    I worked as a news producer in medium and large DMAs (Designated Market Areas -- usually, a single city and its suburbs) for ten years, and was the field producer for a health segment with a local physician.

    Every week, we'd get news stories based on "studies": coffee is good for you, bananas are good for you, aspirin is good for, etc.

    The coffee study was invariably done by retailers or growers of coffee, the same for bananas, aspirin, etc. The problem about medicine and pharmacology (or science in general, for that matter) is that you almost never get a zero-one phenomenon, and correlation does not necessarily equal causation. These ambiguities present a very large 'gray area' for the people doing these studies, unfortunately.

    Add to that the fact the groups comissioning the research are going to censor out anything negative about their products, and you get an extremely unreliable information product. Trust me when I say that the husk of what remains of modern traditional journalism has neither the time, the resources, nor the inclination.

    The only solution I see to this problem is for users to keep the same jaded cynicism that they should probably have for any media product, or to advocate better government regulation to separate real research from junk science.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:12PM (#40311205) Journal

    I work in drug marketing, (software dev at an ad agency) and all I can say is that my pot dealer is more ethical than a typical multinational drug company.

    Well let's take a look at the relationships you propose here. Your drug dealer is a single entity, probably not making a ton of money. I mean, he's making money but he in turn pays it to the supplier and then X middle men back to whoever is growing it. It's probably not as much as a software developer. Even if he is making a lot of money, he depends on you to not rat him out to the cops. So if he starts busting your balls or raising prices and you feel like he's unfair you can just turn him over to the cops and face little or no repercussions. So he will probably be friendly, courteous and -- assuming he doesn't mix business with pleasure -- have his shit together enough to accommodate your emergency needs. He/She is the interface to your whole pot experience and has reason to make sure personally that you are a very happy camper.

    Let's look at a multinational drug company. They have infinite resources, they have infinite lawyers, they will sue you on a whim, they will sue you if voice concern. They are faceless, they never meet you, they actually abuse a broken system to interface with you (HMOs and prescriptions). They operate "within the law" (like you said if it isn't illegal they'll do it) so you have no leverage on them if your relationship goes sour. In fact, if your relationship goes sour your goose is pretty much cooked. Oh, and if you manage to threaten their infinite capital, they have ways of generating more of it. When they fight amongst themselves, people die. That's how powerful they are ... when someone wants to license a patented drug in India and Pfizer wants $200 per dosage and that means that Indian patients can't get the super expensive research compounds, people die. And when an Indian firm just makes a generic version of it, they've basically painted a target on their back for international IP laws. When something does go wrong that they are indeed liable for, you are clumped into a class action lawsuit with no voice ... you have the option to opt out of the class action lawsuit (which I think are opt in by default) but to do so would mean going toe to toe with your personal resources and lawyers against their infinite sums of both. Tell me, what incentive do they have to even give a shit about you? And you, Anonymous Coward, you are doubly F'd in the A because you work for one, so that's just more leverage they hold over your head.

    And I'm supposed to be surprised that your pot dealer is more ethical and humane than big pharma? He'd have to develop some pretty complicated drugs and then go on a rampage of carnage and bloodshed and looting to come close.

    As for me... yes I sold out.. no I don't care. It's a cold world.

    Listen, from various points of view, everyone has sold out. You live in a capitalistic society and in your employment respect you cannot hold yourself to higher standards than that unless you're okay with living on the street. And nobody should blame you for putting good food in your mouth and living in the best place you can afford. Capitalism's the name of the game and if you don't play it right, you get screwed over. So just suck it up and embrace it, I have. Might make us hypocrites but it doesn't invalidate our logic.

  • Re:zzzz (Score:4, Interesting)

    by omnichad ( 1198475 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @02:18PM (#40312167) Homepage

    Direct to consumer advertising isn't all bad. Especially since some doctors are wooed so easily. At least for the critical-thinking consumer, it's been a plus. There's an awareness that there's never been before. Knowing that there is a possible chemical fix to a problem, knowing the side-effects even if they are stated very quickly, and knowing the competition. A doctor who's been compromised by unethical marketing is not going to tell you all the risks, side effects, or even generic alternatives. Having foreknowledge of common pharmaceuticals has helped me greatly in doing my own basic research before I take medicine for anything.

  • Re:Big Surprise (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @03:38PM (#40313269)

    Their lists of severe side effects is a mile long, and to me seem just as bad or possibly even worse than the disease they treat.

    That's a value judgement better left to the suffer of psoriasis, don't you think? Those side effects don't appear in every user, they appear in some fraction. What do you do if one of the side effects appears when you use the drug? Tell your doctor and get off it. That's exactly what happened when I was put on a blood pressure med. (Or a cholesterol one, I don't remember which.) One potential side effect was a cough, which I got. Told Doc, switched drugs, cough gone, new drug working.

    One potential side effect of the blood pressure med is feeling light headed when standing suddenly. Ok, I can deal with that. I used to have low blood pressure so I know how to minimize that. Now I have reasonable pressure and less chance of stroke or blowing a kidney. I'll take the side effect over either of those problems any day.

    Do you want your whole immune system knocked out to treat mild to moderate psoriasis.

    I don't have psoriasis, so I can't know how bad it is or how much I would risk to get rid of the problem. Do you?

    I enjoy not having to constantly worry about pneumonia TB and systemic fungal infections.

    So do I. I also enjoy not having psoriasis.

    Life is made up of risks. Some are worth taking. Some aren't. You choose one way. Someone else may choose another. And when they choose another, they may wind up not having the side effect that you seem so worried about. It's hard to know what someone else is going through and know if they should risk a 1% chance of a side effect to get relief from their medical problem. You are probably aware that every major surgical procedure has a potential side effect of death from anesthesia issues, don't you? Should all major surgery for everyone be stopped because you don't think the risk is worth it?

You know, Callahan's is a peaceable bar, but if you ask that dog what his favorite formatter is, and he says "roff! roff!", well, I'll just have to...