Bioethical journal: “How drug marketing corrupts every part of the scientific and medical network”

When a psychiatrist stands up and blasts Big Pharma, you know something is very wrong. This happened recently with the publication of an Australian study exposing corrupt drug company marketing practices, including covering up adverse side effects and pushing patients on to new, more expensive drugs even when those are less effective. Adelaide psychiatrist Dr. Peter Parry and his American colleague Dr. Glen Spielmans reported in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry:

“Drug marketing is a very sophisticated system which corrupts every part of the scientific and medical network.  Science has largely been taken captive in the name of increasing profits for pharmaceutical firms.”

Parry and Spielmans defend this shocking assessment by pointing to over 400 internal documents obtained from U.S. and European drug companies for this study. These documents suggest that the publicly available evidence base about prescription drugs may not accurately represent all of the underlying data that exist. They write:

“The drug industry and its associated medical communication firms confirm that publications in the medical literature primarily serve marketing interests.

“Suppression and spinning of negative data and medical ghostwriting have emerged as tools to help manage medical journal publications to best suit product sales, while disease mongering and market segmentation of physicians are used to maximize profits”.

Worse, according to Parry and Spielmans:

“We propose that while evidence-based medicine is a noble ideal, marketing-based medicine is the current reality.”   

The study adds the disturbing finding that, regardless of the health benefits, drug companies were pushing patients towards their own patented drugs so they could make bigger profits. Such products were called blockbuster drugs in the industry because they could make more than $1 billion in profits.

Researchers slammed common industry practices such as:

  • instructing drug sales staff not to mention negative side effects
  • hiding negative research results
  • making up statistical reasons to exclude these negative results
  • exaggerating benefits of certain drugs over existing medications
  • ghostwriting of medical journal articles by paid marketers, with the names of physicians used as ‘honorary’ authors.

All of the drug companies involved rejected the conclusions of the study, arguing that the documents on which it is based are “taken out of context as evidence in court cases”.

Another revealing study presented at the American College of Preventive Medicine annual meeting by Dr. Mohammed Hassan Murad of Mayo Clinic reviewed 202 published medical journal articles that addressed the possible association between heart attack risk and the now-discredited Avandia in diabetes patients.*

Among journal article authors who concluded Avandia does NOT increase the risk, 86% had financial relationships with GlaxoSmithKline. Among authors of articles offering unfavorable reviews, only 18% had relationships with GSK.

Commenting on the Bioethical Inquiry article, investigative journalist Alison Bass, author of the award-winning book Side Effects, offers this disturbing summary:

“In too many cases, drug companies, which fund these trials and cherry-pick the researchers whose names appear on them, not only ghostwrite the results to hide negative data and overstate the positive, but they also make sure that any truly negative trials never see the light of day.

“And then once the misleading results are published in supposedly reputable medical journals, the drug companies use prominent physicians (on their payroll) to market the hell out of them.”

 * NEWS UPDATE, New York Times, November 3, 2011:   GlaxoSmithKline Settles Investigation with Record $3 Billion Fine in Avandia Settlement 

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