When you use bad science to sell drugs

Whenever I feel like I don’t have quite enough aggravation in my life, I used to like checking out Stuart Laidlaw’s medical ethics column in the Toronto Star. For example, Stuart’s eagle eye once spotted a disturbing article about ‘marketing-based medicine’ published in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry. It looked at the ever-so-slightly sleazy topic of data fishing.  This is what Big Pharma does when science is used improperly to help market their drugs.  This includes selective use of clinical trial results to suppress or spin negative results.

For the sake of clarity, let’s call this “lying”.

Another example of marketing-based medicine is the alarmingly dangerous practice of medical ghostwriting. This happens when a report that’s bought and paid for by the drug company to give a positive review of one of its products is then published in medical journals under the name of a respected academic who had little (if anything) to do with the actual journal article.  See also: Partners in Slime: Why You Should Be Alarmed About Medical Ghostwriting. Continue reading

Why is Big Pharma getting away with paying billions in criminal fines – but avoiding criminal charges?

Drug giant AstraZeneca has been working on a back room legal settlement deal with the U.S. government since last fall. And according to a New York Times investigation, the company has earmarked $520 million for the purpose.

According to the Times, the final arrangement will wrap up two federal investigations: one related to doctors who participated in clinical trials of the drug and another involved the company’s sales organization. The company allegedly misled both doctors and patients about the safety of its atypical anti-psychotic drug Seroquel, downplaying the known risks of weight gain and diabetes.

AstraZeneca has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The drugmaker will pay $520 million in criminal fines and sign a corporate integrity agreement to settle probes into its marketing of the anti-psychotic drug. But the company will not face any criminal charges.   Continue reading

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. Continue reading