Ask the Internet—“Ask your doctor” is the pitch promoted in all those TV prescription-drug ads. But your doctor may have been influenced to prescribe certain high-priced drugs by the industry’s big-bucks wooing of the medical profession. Among other things, that includes giving doctors free, give-away patient samples of purple pills to encourage expensive drugstore purchases by their patients. The pill producers also lure physicians to “conferences” held at luxury resorts, with all expenses paid by the drug manufacturers.
We’ve mentioned that before, but now comes a sharp reaction to other pharma-farming corruption. It is aimed at the drug industry’s cover-ups of the results of their clinical trials of costly new products.
This time the complaint comes from the medical profession itself. The charge is that when—or if—the prescription drug companies release the results of their pill trials on human volunteers they don’t include the bad news, the discovery of negative effects. Only favorable drug-trial reports are published.
There have lately been some semi-visible news stories on the impact of antidepressant prescriptions promoted for teenagers, which have driven some of them to suicide. A lawsuit by Eliot Spitzer, the attorney general of New York, forced GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of the antidepressant Paxil, to make a belated disclosure of a link between Paxil and suicidal tendencies in children.
The results of most clinical trials of drugs, if and when they are published, do not include or refer to negative findings. The FDA, which approves or denies the marketing of new drugs, has not required full public disclosure. As we go to press the FDA is reopening public hearings on how, or whether, to get the bad test results published with the good.
And now the American Medical Association (AMA) and 12 leading medical journals have decided that they will no longer publish the results of any clinical trial not registered in advance in a public database. That forces data disclosures that will make it harder for pharmaceutical companies to bury bad results. One way they have done that has been to quietly suspend clinical trials on human volunteers without revealing why—maybe because some of them were sickened, not healed, by the treatment.
Trying to head off congressional demands for fuller disclosure, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry’s well-heeled, Washington-based lobbying organization known as Pharma, says it will now begin an online database including summaries of some of its members’ research results, located at www.clinicalstudyresults.org. But drug company participation in that will be voluntary, and that’s not enough for the reformist critics.
The sharpest of them has been Dr. Marcia Angell, a Harvard Medical School professor who is a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. She is just out with a new book, The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It. It nails these companies for their research and business practices. She writes that “despite all its excesses, this is an important industry that should be saved—mainly from itself.”
Bad News?—Speaking of prescriptions—Rx’s in the trade—Gene Weingarten, the “Below the Beltway” columnist in the Washington Post Sunday magazine, covered a page recently with some odd odes that he called “News That Could Be Verse.” We found one of them hard to resist:
Our country’s always led the world
in compassionate relief,
A tradition carried on by
our commander in chief.
AIDS may be killing Africa—every
woman, every man,
But Mr. Bush is on the case!
He’s come up with a plan!
With the graveness of a doctor,
he delivers his Rx:
Number one in curing AIDS—
just stop having sex.
With all respect, I might suggest
(And, sir, I’m not complaining)
Next time you want to say something,
consider just abstaining.